Duke-Butler game draws 23.9 million, up 29% from last year

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It was, indeed, a shining moment for CBS — on air and online as the Eye’s NCAA tourney coverage posted strong numbers in both realms.

Monday’s competitive final game that saw Duke edge Butler 61-59 for the Blue Devils’ fourth title brought in 23.9 million viewers and an 8.2 rating/22 share in the 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen.

The total viewer number represents an increase of 29% vs. last year when 17.6 million watched North Carolina defeat Michigan State.

Meanwhile, the three weeks of March Madness mark the high point of the year for CBSSports.com. This year, the Eye’s sports website served up 11.7 million hours of live video, while audio streaming was accessed by 8.3 million unique visitors to the March Madness portion of the site, which offered live feeds of the games, as well as other tournament-related programming.

Many advertisers buy time concurrently on the broadcast and online platforms, which helps CBS maximize the value of the crossplatform play, said Jason Kint, senior VP and g.m. of CBSSports.com.

“We’ve been told that the NCAA tournament is the biggest streaming event of the year,” Kint said. “It’s the case study for cross platforms. There’s a high percentage of overlap but (the games) available online is not necessarily what’s available on broadcast.”

In the exact opposite of the viewing pattern for the TV coverage, online NCAA coverage drew the most traffic the first two days of the tournament when many college hoops junkies were at work and had to watch the action on their computers. Online viewing goes down — and the TV ratings go up — when the tournament field narrows and fewer games are played during the work week.

CBS said the average household rating for the 50-plus games carried in the tourney was a 6.2/13, up a hair from last year’s 6.1/13 average.

Going forward, the tournament may change drastically — both on the court and on the air. There is a strong possibility the NCAA may vote to expand the tournament from 64 to 96 teams, which may dilute the level of competition and ratings.

And there’s a chance the new format, if it does change, won’t even be on CBS. The net is three years away from the end of a 11-year, $6 billion contract with the NCAA, which has the choice to opt of the deal as of next year or stick with the Eye for three more seasons. Turner Sports and CBS may likely make a co-bid for the next contract, and ESPN — already a huge provider of college basketball — is also a strong contender.

Both CBS’ Internet and broadcast divisions are set to continue their momentum this week as the Masters begins Thursday in Augusta, Ga. Golf’s preeminent tournament has been a CBS staple since 1956, and with Tiger Woods announcing that he’s making his return to the game this week after a four-month layoff, anticipation to see him play is at an all-time high.

In 1997, when Woods won the first of his green jackets, a record 20.2 million tuned in on the final Sunday. Four years later when Woods won again, 19.1 million watched the last-day coverage. If Woods is in contention this Sunday, there’s little doubt a new record will be set.

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