Hooping It Up in Ratings


As collegiate hoopsters put their
basketballs away for the season, the final Nielsen
tallies showed growth for both the men’s and women’s
versions of March Madness.

Turner Sports and CBS concluded the rookie run
of their 14-year, $10.8 billion rights deal with the
NCAA for the Men’s Division I Basketball Championship
with an overall audience and assorted demographic
gains, while ESPN’s coverage of the women’s
tournament concluded on a high note, despite the
absence of some of the sport’s perennial powers.

The 2011
men’s tournament,
which for
the first time in
its 73-year history
gave each
game its own
national window,
10.2 million
viewers across
and TruTV, acc
ording to
Nielsen data.
That marked
March Madness’
best per formance
since an
average of 10.6
million watched
the 2005 tourney,
and grew
7% from the 9.5
million on CBS
— which had
previously presented
the tourney
in a whip-around fashion — last year. Including
the inaugural First Four on TruTV, the 2011 event
averaged a 6.4 rating and a 14 share, 7% more than
CBS’s 6.0/13 during 2010 and the tourney’s best since
a 6.9/15 in 2005.


From key-demographic perspectives, CBS and
Turner’s coverage posted up some solid gains over
the 2010 tournament: among them, 21% among
persons 18-34, to 2.33 million; and 25% among guys
18-34, to 1.6 million.

March Madness on Demand scored a 63% jump
in visitors to 52 million, and streamed-video viewing
grew 17%, to some 13. 7 million hours, 30% of which
emanated from new free iPhone and iPad applications.

“By every metric — programming, production,
ratings and advertising — the tournament was a
success,” David Levy, president of sales, distribution
and sports at Turner Broadcasting System, said. “It
exceeded our business models and started a great
foundation for the next 13 years.”

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said the
new format played well on Madison Avenue and in
homes around the country.

“All advertisers got what they paid for. There were
no make-goods,” he said. “Our plan to have CBS,
TBS, TNT and TruTV televise all the games proved
that it was the right way to go. The viewer acceptance
was especially gratifying and was almost universally
embraced by basketball fans.”

Relative to TruTV, Levy said the network gained
greater exposure — it was the No. 2 Google search
item — in the days leading up to the tournament.

TruTV also benefited from HD launches on such
top carriers as Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner
Cable, ahead of the hoops action and its highestrated
week. Levy noted that Nielsen performance
and its position as a “top 10 male-skewing network
makes TruTV the right place for more sports content,”
some of which will be revealed at its April 12

Marking the first time since 1994 that the women’s
final did not sport a No. 1 seed, ESPN, whose
networks presented
all 63
games in HD
for the initial
time, culminated
its coverage
Texas A&M
topping Notre
Dame for
the Aggies’
first-ever title,
76-70. The
contest posted
a 4% gain to
a 2.8 rating average
and an
8% increase
to 3.83 million
from a 2.7 and
3.53 million
for Connecticut’s
over Stanford
in 2010. Many
believed the
final would falter without those brand-name programs.


“We were very pleased with the NCAA championship
game rating,” Carol Stiff , ESPN vice president,
programming and acquisitions, said. “The title game
between Notre Dame and Texas A&M reflected the
strength and talents of the No. 2 seeds advancing,
and gave the viewers a competitive, compelling and
entertaining basketball game to watch.”

Overall, viewership on ESPN increased 16% to 1.88
million people from 1.63 million 2010, with an 8% ratings
gain to a 1.4 from a 1.3 over a dozen contests.

Not all was bright with the tournament’s ratings,

Entering the Final Four, CBS and Turner were sitting
on 11% audience amelioration over Black Rock’s
2010 deliveries. However, the first national semifinal
between upstarts Butler and VCU declined somewhat
from the Bulldogs’ game versus Michigan State
in 2010. Moreover, UConn’s victory in the lackluster
final — Butler shot just a record low 18% from the
floor — sustained a 16% drop to 20.1 million viewers
from 23.9 million the prior year in which Duke
edged the Cinderella mid-major from Indiana in the
final seconds.

On the distaff side, ESPN2 averaged a 0.4 rating
and 495,000 viewers for 16 telecast windows, decreases
of 20% and 24%, respectively from the 2010