March Madness: Despite Final Decline, Tourney Nets Best Performance Since 2005

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Despite a decline with last night's final, CBS and Turner Sports averaged more than 10 million viewers during the first year of joint coverage of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.

CBS's April 4 telecast of the national championship game won by Connecticut over Butler 53-41 averaged an 11.7 household rating and 18 share, translating into 20.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen Fast Nationals Data. That was down from CBS's coverage of the 2010 title tilt, when Duke held off Butler's initial Cinderella run in the final second, which notched a 14.2 rating and 23.9 million viewers. Nevertheless, UConn-Butler outperformed two of the last five championship games (2006, 2009), according to Nielsen.

UConn beats Butler to win 2011 NCAA tournament

Overall, the 2011 tourney -- the rookie run under a 14-year, $10.8 billion rights deal CBS and Turner signed with the NCAA that for the first time in the tourney's history gave each game its own national window -- averaged 10.2 million viewers across CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV. That was up 7% from the 9.5 million watchers for CBS, which had previously presented the tourney in a whip-around fashion, last year.

It was March Madness' best performance since 10.6 million watched the 2005 tourney.

The overall tournament average, including the inaugural First Four on TruTV, averaged a 6.4/14 7% more than CBS's 6.0/13 during 2010, according to Nielsen Fast Nationals. The tourney's 2011 delivery was its highest average rating 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: 21% among persons 18 to 34 to 2.33 million of those viewers from 1.93 million; 12% among persons 18 to 49 to 4.69 million from 4.21 million; 7% with adults 25 to 54 to 4.84 million from 4.51 million; 25% with guys 18 to 34 to 1.6 million from 1.28 million; 14% against males 18 to 49 to 3.25 million from 2.84 million; and 10% against men 25 to 54 to 3.34 million from 3.03 million.

"By every measure, the first year of Turner and CBS's coverage of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship was a success," said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. "It was a terrific start for our partnership, and it formed a great foundation for the next 13 years. The ratings increases this year also proved that the new television format is more fan friendly than ever. With four national television networks, viewers were able to enjoy more games, coverage and analysis."

"The excitement that built during the entire tournament resulted in terrific ratings," said Sean McManus, chairman, CBS Sports. "The new television format has been appreciated and accepted by the viewers. Although we are only in the first year of our 14-year partnership with Turner Sports, the success we've achieved with the best overall tournament ratings since 2005 bodes very well for the future."

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