Ratings Roundup: Before Sweet 16 Tips Off, 2019 March Madness Sits in Second as Most-Watched Tourney in 29 Years

Ratings roundup is a rundown of rating news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, the NCAA March Madness opening rounds smash live stream numbers and become the second most-watched tournament in 29 years, NCAA Selection Show sees its highest ratings in five years, the ACC tournament gives ESPN the two most-watched games in the history of the network’s Champ Week coverage, and ESPN’s regular season slate increases 15% from last year.

2019 March Madness is the Second Craziest Since 1991
Turner Sports and CBS Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship continues to deliver significant audience increases across all platforms.

Live game coverage across TBS, CBS, TNT, and truTV is averaging a 6.4/15 HH rating/share in the metered markets, the second-highest rating through the first weekend since 1991, when the NCAA Tournament expanded to its current television format (6.7/14 in 2015). The 6.4/15 HH rating, based on Nielsen metered market delivery, is up 8% over last year (5.9/13).

NCAA March Madness Live has set all-time records in live streams and live hours of consumption for the NCAA Tournament to date, with both seeing increases of more than 25% through the first full week.

Additionally, Sunday’s third game telecast window from 5:15-9:15 PM, ET, highlighted by Duke’s down-to-the-wire victory over UCF, earned an 11.9/24 HH rating/share, up +35% from last year (8.8/18) and ranking as the second-highest rating for that game window in 29 years (12.1/23 in 2017).

Official NCAA March Madness social accounts have produced a 56% lift in engagements vs. last year’s Tournament to date through Sunday (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).

Selection Show’s Best Performance Since 2014 Edition
The 2019 NCAA March Madness Selection Show on CBS, produced in partnership between CBS Sports and Turner Sports, earned a 4.0 rating, the highest in five years (4.2 in 2014).

The Selection Show peaked at a 4.3 from 6:30-6:45 p.m. ET. The top 5 markets include Louisville (16.4), Columbus (11.8), Indianapolis (11.3), Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem (10.3), and Kansas City & Cincinnati (9.8).

Duke Semifinal, Championship Do Damage During ACC Tournament
This year’s New York Life ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament set new records for ESPN, as the Duke-North Carolina semifinal and the Duke-Florida State championship game are now the most-viewed Champ Week games in ESPN history.

The season’s third meeting between Duke and North Carolina averaged 4,150,000 viewers, which in addition to setting a new viewership record for ESPN, was the most-viewed Champ Week game across networks this season. The previous record for most-viewed game was the 1998 ACC championship game, which averaged 4,011,000 viewers. The championship game between Florida State-Duke matchup averaged 4,063,000 viewers, the second most-viewed Champ Week game in ESPN history, and second most-watched Champ Week game of the season across all networks.

The second semifinal, which saw Florida State facing Virginia, averaged 1,618,000 viewers, up 76% in comparison to last year’s game on ESPN2.

The three games averaged 3,288,000 viewers, up 17% from 2017, when all three matchups were played on ESPN.

Additional highlights

  • Tennessee’s win over Kentucky averaged 3,285,000 viewers, the most-viewed SEC semifinal on ESPN ever, and up 78% from last year’s second SEC semifinal game
  • Women’s games during Champ Week averaged 171,000 viewers, up 5% year-over-year

Across ESPN and ESPN2, Champ Week averaged 883,000 viewers, up 10% year over year. It also ranks as the fourth largest audience for Champ Week since 1998. ESPN aired seven of the top ten games during Champ Week.

ESPN Closes Out Men’s, Women’s College Basketball Regular Season
ESPN’s college basketball slate was up significantly year-over-year, with men’s basketball up 15%, averaging 1,199,000 viewers per game. Across all networks, men’s basketball finished up 6%, and women’s basketball was up 5%.

ESPN’s franchise programming led the way for the network, with its Sonic Blockbuster (2,803,000 viewers) and Saturday Primetime Presented by H&R Block (2,776,000 viewers) games being up 64% and 42%, respectively. Thursday Showcase contests (women’s), which featured marquee matchups throughout the season, averaged 549,000 viewers, up 28%.

On the men’s side, ESPN aired the top six games across all networks, including the final regular season matchup between Duke-North Carolina, which averaged 4,162,000 viewers.

The six most-watched games include:

Feb. 20, 2019
North Carolina at Duke
ESPN
4,472,000

Mar 9, 2019
Duke at North Carolina
ESPN
4,162,000

Jan. 19, 2019
Virginia at Duke
ESPN
3,837,000

Feb. 9, 2019
Duke at Virginia
ESPN
3,378,000

Feb. 16, 2019
Tennessee at Kentucky
ESPN
3,057,000

Feb. 23, 2019
Duke at Syracuse
ESPN
3,026,000

Duke generated significant interest on ESPN this season, with Duke games averaging 2,143,000 viewers, up 30% year over year. Even factoring out Duke’s increase, college basketball on ESPN is still up 6%.

ESPN networks aired the top 105 men’s games on cable, with ESPN networks averaging 410,000 viewers across all games on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. College GameDay Covered by State Farm on ESPN, and simulcast on ESPNU, averaged 638,000 viewers this season.

For the 17th consecutive year, Louisville is the number one market for men’s college basketball. Knoxville ranks second (2.9 rating), followed by Raleigh-Durham (2.8). Rounding out the top five is Greensboro-High Point (2.7) and Kansas City (2.5)

On the women’s side. Hartford & New Haven is the number one market for the seventh year in a row at 1.2. The final four cities includes Knoxville (0.9), Louisville (0.5), Memphis (0.3), and Birmingham (0.3).

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