Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ratings Five-Spot, WE 3/20/11 - March Madness Ratings In-Depth

It wasn't a hugely interesting ratings week, so I decided to dedicate this whole Five-Spot to a more in-depth look at the first week of March Madness. I think it's worth the effort because this year has had such a drastic shift in the way the tourney is covered, and it's pretty tough to find all this info consolidated in one place anyway.

First Four on TruTV - Despite considerable joking in the sports media about how nobody would be able to "find" TruTV, three of the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday did outdraw the Tuesday play-in game on ESPN last year. Even the first 16-vs.-16 matchup (1.200 million) edged last year's play-in (1.053). And the at-large matchups (1.354 million for Clemson/UAB on Tuesday, 1.253 for USC/VCU on Wednesday) did much better than the 16-vs-16s. UTSA/Alabama St. early on Wednesday brought up the rear with just 786,000 total viewers.

CBS Year-to-Year - For the people who just pay attention to the day-to-day broadcast ratings, it's looked quite dire for CBS. The six broadcast games to air at least partly in primetime have mostly been down huge in A18-49 year-to-year: -53% and -59% on Thursday, -55% and -48% on Friday, -58% on Saturday and then just -19% on Sunday when there was far less (but still some) cable overlap. This is pretty misleading, as I'll touch on later, but the numbers still look jarring. It's gone from a typically 3.0+ A18-49 draw down into the mid-1's in just one year.

Cable Roundup - Despite the huge drops on CBS, it has still done a lot better than the cable games. On Thursday and Friday, when all four CBS primetime games were in the mid-1's in A18-49, the biggest of the 12 primetime cable games garnered just a 1.0 (UCLA/Michigan State on Thursday) and most were much lower than that (nine of the other 11 rated from 0.5-0.7). The weekend saw cable get stronger, with CBS' BYU/Gonzaga blowout (1.5) nearly out-demoed by TBS' doubleheader (1.3 & 1.4), and then TNT's Sunday twosome set cable highs for the week with 1.7 each.

The Big Picture - Press releases have noted that it all adds up to overall double-digit growth, but an important note is that the vast majority of that growth took place in the afternoon games. On Thursday/Friday, the HH year-to-year increases in the afternoon windows were 36%, 47%, 41% and 47% but just 2%, 5%, 7% and 16% in primetime. My demo calculations for primetime were around -6%, even, +10% and +16%. Tougher to do for Saturday since there's a lot of overlap, but it looks like only small growth there too. Nothing special in my opinion considering it's four nets vs. one net.

Looking Ahead - I'm not exactly going out on a limb in saying this, but expect the year-to-year gaps within CBS ratings to narrow hugely in the second and third weeks. Thursday and Friday will see just two networks (CBS and TBS) vying for the hoop fan's attention, and it's CBS exclusivity after that. The Sunday 5:00 CBS game (whose first half had no cable overlap and which got a 2.9 demo, down 19% vs. last year's 3.6) should be a much better barometer of where we're headed than all the other CBS results so far. I'm less confident about what'll happen with the overall growth figures.

More Five-Spots in the Index.

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