The NCAA men's basketball tournament is averaging a combined 5.5 U.S. rating and 8.4 million viewers through the first three rounds across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, which is up 15% and 14%, respectively, from a 4.8 rating and 7.4 million viewers at the same point last year on CBS. Coverage of the third round on Sunday averaged a combined 6.6 rating, which is tied with '05 as the highest-rated first Sunday of the tournament since a 7.2 rating in '00. This year's first Sunday rating is also up 16% from a 5.7 rating on CBS last year. MMOD is also seeing a 47% increase in total visits this year across broadband and mobile products through Sunday. In total, there were 26.7 million visits across the NCAA online and mobile platforms from the start if the First Four on March 15 through the end of the third round on Sunday. The first three rounds of the tournament also totaled 10.3 million total hours of live streaming video. MMOD also was the No. 1 app for both iPhone and iPad last Thursday and Friday. Thirty-six percent of all MMOD video streams on Saturday and Sunday were from iPad and iPhone apps (THE DAILY). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Marisa Guthrie wrote the tournament "will likely push CBS to a primetime ratings win for Sunday" in final ratings. The net averaged a 2.5 overnight among adults 18-49 from 7:00-11:00pm ET, with the Ohio State-George Mason game "sliding CBS primetime by 19 minutes" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 3/21).
INSIDE THE RATINGS: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes the "highest-rated games so far ... included brand names." However, the "formula isn't foolproof," as Friday's Duke-Hampton and Notre Dame-Akron games earned 0.7 overnight ratings, "the lowest rating so far except for" truTV's 0.4 rating for Friday's Marquette-Xavier game. Hiestand notes the "15 lowest-rated games were all on Turner's cable channels" (USA TODAY, 3/22). DAILY VARIETY's Rick Kissell wrote the four networks "got off to a strong start collectively." However, viewership for "individual games didn't look all that impressive." Ratings for CBS alone are "not surprisingly … down sharply from last year," including more than 40% in primetime on Thursday, despite the fact that audiences "still appear to see CBS as the primary destination for games" (VARIETY.com, 3/21). But CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said of the ratings, "We made certain assumptions with advertisers, and we've either met or exceeded all those assumptions. The first year is often a benchmark and a critical year for a long-term deal, and that bodes well" (AP, 3/21).
EFFECTIVE PARTNERSHIP: YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase in a review of the first weekend of tournament coverage awarded a "swish" to the new four-network format. Chase: "This was the best innovation the tournament has made in decades" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21). LINDY'S SPORTS' Shawn O'Neal wrote the CBS-Turner coverage is "perhaps the best sports coverage package in the considerable history of American television." CBS and Turner "managed to do what few thought possible by fixing what wasn't broken." O'Neal: "As good as the games were ... the TV coverage was even better" (LINDYSSPORTS.com, 3/21). In Minnesota, Frank Rajkowski writes the CBS-Turner coverage "has been excellent." Rajkowski: "I didn't know how I'd feel about bringing the additional channels aboard. ... But really, it's been like getting a free subscription to the NFL Sunday Ticket." In a broadcast world "where it's too often Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and a few others all the time, it's nice to have the freedom to watch an entire Virginia Commonwealth game if one so chooses" (ST. CLOUD TIMES, 3/22). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "When they put all of the games out there, full, on all four of these networks, this is a delight. You can see everything you want to see” (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/21). SportsNet N.Y.'s Adam Schein: “I love the new TV format for the NCAA tournament. Four channels, you get every game, you act as a producer” (“Loud Mouths,” SportsNet N.Y., 3/21).
MORE TIME FOR STUDIO SHOWS: On Long Island, Neil Best notes fans have "applauded the ability to watch every game in its entirety." But the format "also has hugely increased the time studio analysts have to express themselves." The "network culture clash can be jarring, as when CBS' Greg Anthony stuck to sober analysis while seated next to TNT's raucous NBA frat house of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson." But Best writes, "Mostly the studio segments have been a welcome sideshow to the NCAA circus, even if things have gotten a little confusing at times. ... The star as usual was Barkley" (NEWSDAY, 3/22). But YAHOO SPORTS' Chase awarded an "airball" to both Smith and Barkley, who were a "picture of apathy all weekend." Meanwhile, Chase awarded a "swish" to the broadcast team of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr, who "made a seamless transition from the pros to college" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21).
BEST OF THE REST: In Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen wrote CBS analyst Bill Raftery was "great" this weekend, as he "always is." CBS "had the chance to move him into the top chair, next to Jim Nantz, when they forced out Billy Packer, and they blew it." Samuelsen: "I like Clark Kellogg. He does a great job. But nobody is better than Raft." Meanwhile, Samuelsen wrote studio host Greg Gumbel "did a good job, given that he had to try to keep Kenny Smith engaged and Charles Barkley awake." Barkley "should at least try to fake that he cares while the red light is on" (FREEP.com, 3/21). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes whoever brought Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino "into CBS' NCAA hoops studio over the weekend made a good decision." Pitino "stole the show," and he "spread sunshine and goodwill in the officials' direction in front of a huge national TV audience" while discussing several controversial calls Sunday. Raissman: "It can't hurt, right? And it certainly helps his cause more than if he ripped them on CBS. Very slick" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/22).
LATE TIP-OFFS: In DC, Tracee Hamilton wrote her "one quibble with the tournament, a tiny problem easily corrected next year," is for the nets to "adjust those Sunday start times." CBS "for much of the day Sunday ... was the only game in town." It then "bowed out in favor of its prime-time lineup ... and the damage was done," as the games were "so staggered and so many started late that we had basketball going on well past midnight Sunday night." Hamilton: "I don't mind that Thursday's and Friday's schedule runs from noon till past midnight; that’s part of the glory of those first two days, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Saturday can run late, too. But the final day of the weekend action should be structured so that the last game ends no later than 9:50 p.m., rather than starting at that time" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/21). SportsNet N.Y.'s Chris Carlin said, "I don't need five games in prime time on Sunday night. I want to be done with my college basketball by eight o’clock on Sunday” ("Loud Mouths,” SportsNet N.Y., 3/21).