Tiny Davidson College’s cinderella run through the tournament hasn’t been enough to lift TV ratings for March Madness. So far CBS is averaging 8 million viewers through the first 22 games of the college basketball tournament, a 7% decrease from last year’s 8.4 million and the lowest total since 2003, according to MediaWeek.
A variety of explanations for the ratings drop-off include more one-sided games, early exits of marquee teams, and first round games scheduled on Easter Sunday.
Online viewing, meanwhile, is way up. CBS says March Madness On-Demand has had 4.3 million unique users since the tournament began, a 147% increase from 2007. And the users appear to be watching for long periods. CBS says 4.4 million hours of the tournament have been broadcast on the Web.
Could online viewing be a factor in TV ratings? The company line from CBS is no. Online viewing is additive, they say, and people predominantly watch online when they have no access to TV: Basically,when they’re at work, where Nielsen wouldn’t count them as TV viewers, anyway. But the ratings shortfall from last year–400,000 viewers–is a fraction of those who have accessed the games online. Is it possible that CBS is taking a ratings hit because of it?
Here’s some perspective on what’s at stake: TNS expects TV ad revenue from March Madness at $545 million, vs CBS’s estimate of $21 million in online revenue.
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