By all accounts, the first year of shared-network coverage for the men’s college basketball tournament was a winner.
Despite concerns about whether auds would be able to find some early-round games with action split between CBS and Turner Sports (TBS, TNT and truTV), viewership hit a six-year high.
CBS naturally saw its early-round ratings decline but comparisons improved down the stretch as it exclusively carried the final seven games of the tournament, including Monday’s title game.
A lackluster and low-scoring affair, in which Connecticut beat Butler, the championship contest averaged a solid 7.1/18 in adults 18-49 — making it the top program of the night — and 20.06 million viewers overall.
This is down from last year’s buzzer-beater in which national power Duke outlasted upstart Butler (8.2/22 in 18-49, 23.94m), but is better than the title games in both 2009 and 2008.
Overall for the tournament, CBS and Turner averaged 10.2 million viewers — a 7% improvement over last year on CBS (9.5 million) and the largest aud since 2005 (10.6 million).
Especially promising for the TV partners was the 25% surge among men 18-34 (1.60 million vs. 1.28 million).
“The excitement that built during the entire tournament resulted in terrific ratings,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “The new television format has been appreciated and accepted by the viewers.”
CBS also won last week’s primetime ratings race, riding Saturday’s basketball semifinals and Sunday’s telecast of the “Academy of Country Music Awards” to a sweep of the 18-49 and 25-54 demos as well as a dominant victory in total viewers (11.8 million to 9.4 million for runner-up ABC).
In 18-49, the Eye’s 2.9 rating/8 share edged out Fox’s 2.7/8, ending the latter’s six-week winning streak. They were followed by ABC (2.5/7), with NBC and Univision well behind (both 1.5/4); this marks the second time in three weeks that the Peacock and Univision have tied for fourth.
For CBS, the “ACM Awards” on Sunday (3.3/9 in 18-49, 13.04m) were up a tick year-to-year in 18-49 while drawing the kudocast’s second best adults 18-34 score in six years (2.5/7). And Saturday’s basketball game between Connecticut and Kentucky (5.4/17, 16.72m) ranked third among all shows for the week in 18-49.
Also clicking for the Eye were top-10 hits “NCIS” (3.9/11, 18.73m) and “The Big Bang Theory” (3.7/12, 15.34m), but Friday drama “Chaos” had a weak premiere (1.1/4, 6.52m).
At Fox, “American Idol” ruled both Wednesday (7.7/21, 24.18m) and Thursday (6.8/20, 22.63m). The latter night’s results show led into special “Mobbed” (3.8/10, 10.82m), whose numbers were promising enough for the net to quickly order a series version.
ABC had a pretty good week, with “Dancing With the Stars” continuing strong (5.2/14, 22.77m) and “Grey’s Anatomy” (4.9/13, 13.09m) posting its best scores since September with a musical episode. Also, “Castle” hit season highs (3.2/8, 12.56m), and Tuesday drama “Body of Proof” had a nice premiere (3.1/8, 13.94m).
NBC was led by “Celebrity Apprentice” (3.1/8, 8.65m), which hit a season high in 18-49 while drawing its largest overall aud for the fourth straight week.
The “Kids Choice Awards” was Saturday’s top non-sports program (1.5/5 in 18-49, 7.29m) as well as cable’s most-watched show of the week. Though down a bit year-to-year in key demos like kids 2-11 (3.51m vs. 3.72m) and tweens 9-14 (2.52m vs. 2.61m), this marks the fourth straight year the kudocast has topped 7 million viewers.
Elsewhere in cable, History rose to second among the cable nets in 18-49 (behind only USA). In addition to Monday hits “Pawn Stars” (2.7/6, 6.74m) and “American Pickers” (2.1/5, 6.02m), it scored Thursday with “Swamp People” (1.5/4, 3.85m) and Sunday with “Ax Men” (1.4/4, 3.21m).
On the food front, “Top Chef” (1.5/4, 2.77m) scored for Bravo with its finale on Wednesday (1.5/4, 2.77m), as did “Chopped” for Food Network on Sunday (1.4/4, 3.42m).
And AMC’s “The Killing” (2.72 million), Starz’ “Camelot” (1.13m) and ReelzChannel’s “The Kennedys” (1.33m) all opened to solid numbers (Daily Variety, April 5).