SBD/March 29, 2011/Media

NCAA Tournament Ratings, Viewership Up 11% Entering Final Four

Kentucky-North Carolina game earned Super Bowl-like rating in Louisville
The NCAA men's basketball tournament is averaging a combined 6.0 U.S. rating and 9.4 million viewers through the regional finals across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, up 11% from a 5.4 rating and 8.5 million viewers at the same point last year on CBS. The 6.0 rating also marks the highest average rating at this point in the tournament since '05, when CBS averaged a 6.3 rating. Coverage of the regional finals on Sunday averaged a 7.6 rating and 12.6 million viewers, flat and up 6%, respectively, from a 7.6 rating and 11.9 million viewers last year (CBS). Louisville's WLKY-CBS averaged a 37 local rating for Sunday's Kentucky-North Carolina game, a rating that is "near Super Bowl levels." WLKY's coverage peaked at a high of 44.3 near the game's finish (COURIER-JOURNAL.com, 3/28). CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus yesterday said he is "extremely pleased" with the ratings and the general coverage by CBS and Turner in the first year of their partnership. "Everything turned out even better than I hoped it was going to," he said. "From a production standpoint the broadcasts were absolutely seamless." McManus singled out the studio shows and announcers for successfully alerting viewers to close finishes on other networks (William Cooper, THE DAILY).  CABLEFAX DAILY notes though Turner's "tourney run is over, the decision to air every game across 4 channels has clearly paid viewership dividends" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 3/29).

NOT SETTING A NUMBER
: McManus yesterday shied away from giving a rating projection for the VCU-Butler Final Four game, which features the highest combined seeds (No. 11 for VCU, No. 8 for Butler) of any national semifinal game ever. Instead, McManus said the competitiveness of that game, as well as Kentucky-UConn, will determine the ratings for Saturday’s games. "I'm not going to say it's going to do a bad rating because we have two teams from a mid major," he said. "I think it depends on the storylines that develop between now and then and how close the game is" (Cooper). But in N.Y., Bob Raissman writes the tournament ratings, "which have registered on the high side, are about to fall off a cliff." The VCU-Butler matchup "doesn't register with the casual fan, those coveted eyeballs transcending the hard core and driving the ratings." Raissman: "When matched against the right opponent, a disrespected little guy like VCU can attract viewers, tantalize them with the prospect of pulling off the upset. But they must be playing a big bad dog, not a Butler Bulldog." A "bad lead-in, ratings wise, to the Connecticut-Kentucky nightcap won't be good for business" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/29). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said this Final Four "doesn't have enough sizzle." Paige: "You've got to have a Duke, you've got to have teams from major markets. ... You're going to see ratings down" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/28).

DO NOT BE DECEIVED BY NAMES: When both VCU and Butler made the Final Four, instant reaction from many in the sports community was that the lack of a marquee school in one semifinal would hurt CBS' ratings. THE DAILY asked ESPN Senior VP/Research & Analytics Artie Bulgrin whether marquee teams or competitive games drive ratings more. "It has always been a combination," he said. Bulgrin pointed to the fact that there has been just a 2.4 rating point range in 10 of the 11 Final Fours from '00 to '10 when you average both games (8.0-10.4). He suggested that shows the VCU-Butler game should perform well in TV ratings. In '03, ratings were hurt when Kansas beat Marquette by 33 points in the first game, hurting the lead-in for the second game (Texas-Syracuse) (John Ourand, THE DAILY). CNBC's Darren Rovell added, "Cinderellas aren't necessarily a positive for ratings. CBS would rather have two powerhouses." But Rovell noted last year's Duke-Butler national championship game "actually had the highest ratings in eight years" ("Street Signs," CNBC, 3/28).

PREPPED FOR THE BIG GAME: CBS will feature a three-man booth for the first time in their broadcasting of the Final Four, but announcers Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr stressed that their experience working together during the Big Ten tournament and the First Four games in Dayton would pay dividends during this weekend's coverage. "The chemistry was there right away," said Nantz. "The neat thing is there is not a battle of egos. That is not going to be an issue." Nantz noted the trio also would be better due to the ability to focus on just the games as opposed to having a "big-picture slant" in discussing the upcoming tournament during previous broadcasts. "Now we're going to be locking in on games that are crucial," he said (Cooper). Meanwhile, in California, Doug Krikorian wrote it is "bad enough that ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is a shameless shill for the NCAA." But Krikorian adds, "What I find even worse is his know-it-all pomposity that inspires my hitting the mute button as it's his turn to give the party line on any controversial subject like officiating, which I think has been too often unnecessarily intrusive during the tournament" (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 3/29).

MMOD ON THE RISE AGAIN: March Madness on Demand through the first two weeks of the tournament has seen a 60% increase in total visits across online, iPad and iPhone apps. There were 41.6 million visits across MMOD broadband and mobile platforms from the start of the First Four on March 15 to Sunday. The tournament to date also has garnered 12.7 million total hours of streaming video through MMOD online and the iPad and iPhone apps (Turner). ADWEEK's Mike Shields reported MMOD for the entire '10 tournament "generated 11.7 million hours of live streaming video and audio." The increase "appears to be at least partially driven by the popularity of Apple products." However, Web viewers also "hung around longer, as users averaged 64 minutes of streaming from Mar. 15-27, while mobile users averaged 25 minutes over the same time period." Turner and CBS "have so far declined to release ad revenue figures for 2011 -- though given the robust online video market, dollars are surely up significantly" (ADWEEK.com, 3/28).
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