Through Saturday, the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship is the most-watched version of March Madness in 18 years.
This year's tourney averaged a 5.3 U.S. household rating collectively on TBS, CBS, TNT and TruTV through March 17, up 4% from a 5.1 rating in 2011 and an increase of 15% over a 4.6 rating in 2010, according to Nielsen fast nationals data. The average of 8 million viewers improved 3% from last year's 7.8 million viewers at the corresponding stage of the tournament and 14% compared with 7 million viewers in 2010.
On a Saint Patrick's Day that saw eight high-seeded favorites -- Syracuse, Kentucky, Baylor, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Marquette, Indiana and Louisville -- all prevail, the coverage across the four networks delivered the highest-rated and most-watched first Saturday of the tourney since 2007. The March 17 telecasts' averaged a 6.1 rating, which grew 3% over last year's 5.9 and 13% above the 5.4 mark in 2010. The 9.3 million viewer average matched last year and was 11% more than the 8.4 million viewers in 2010.
The March 17 performance followed an historic day on the court that generated new Nielsen milestones on Friday.
With No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri falling to Lehigh and Norfolk State, respectively, the four networks on March 16 teamed to tally a 5.4 household rating and 8 million viewers, according to Nielsen fast nationals data, making it the most-watched NCAA tournament Friday since the event expanded to four telecast windows in 1991. Those deliveries were up 8% compared with a 5.0 rating in 2011 and 29% versus 2010's 4.2 rating, and 7% when measured against 7.5 million viewers in 2011 and 27% from the prior year's 6.3 million watchers.
Turner and CBS are now in the second of a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal through which the four networks televise each of the tourney's 67 games in a national window. Prior to the new contract, CBS presented, whip-around, regionalized coverage of the tourney's early rounds.
As Norfolk State's Spartans tamed Mizzou's Tigers and Lehigh's Mountain Hawks clawed Coach K's Duke squad, they entered the record books, becoming just the fifth and sixth No. 15 seeds to upset the No. 2 seeds in tourney history.
Overall, the 2012 tourney's first Thursday and Friday represented the most-watched two-day opening since 1991. Together, the four networks averaged a 5.3 rating, up 6% compared with a 5.0 rating in 2011 and 7.9 million viewers, a 5% gain over 7.5 million viewers last year, according to Nielsen.
On March 16, the first telecast window of the day earned a 3.8 rating, equaling last year's record-setting performance, and up 41% from a 2.7 in 2010.
The second window, which featured Norfolk State's win, delivered a 5.2 rating, an 11% advance from last year and 63% jump from 2010's 3.2 rating.
The third telecast window, during which Lehigh banished the Blue Devils, netted a 6.5 rating, scoring a 12% leap from last year and 20% above a 5.4 rating in 2010.
The final window earned a 6.0 rating, edging up 2% from last year and 18% compared with a 5.1 rating in 2010.