March Madness TV Ratings Rise, But Tournament's Top Draw Is Out

The NCAA Tournament is having a strong run thus far on CBS and Turner, with ratings at a four-year high through the quarterfinal round.
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Duke's Zion Williamson

The March portion of March Madness has gone well for CBS Sports and Turner Sports, with ratings at a four-year high and among the best since the early 1990s.

But as the NCAA men's basketball tournament heads to the Final Four, its biggest draw thus far has been eliminated: Top overall seed Duke, led by highlight machine (and projected future No. 1 NBA draft pick) Zion Williamson, was eliminated Sunday in a regional final against Michigan State.

The Spartans' 68-67 win over Duke generated big numbers for CBS, with a 10.5 rating in metered-market households in the late-afternoon window. That's up from 10.1 for the comparable spot in 2018 and the biggest preliminary number for the late Sunday Elite Eight matchup since 2005. 

As a whole, the tournament is averaging a 6.7 rating/15 share in metered-market households through Sunday, up 8 percent over last year's 6.2/13 and tied for the third-best mark since 1993. Over that 26-year span, only the 2015 and 2011 tournaments delivered bigger ratings through the Elite Eight round (this year is tied with the 2013 and 2005 tourneys). 

Duke games were the most-watched in rounds one (6.22 million versus North Dakota State) and two (12.88 million versus Central Florida) of the tournament, and the Blue Devils' nail-biter win over Virginia Tech will also likely end up atop the ratings for the Sweet 16 round.

The Final Four, airing Saturday on CBS with the championship Monday, April 8, will not lack for storylines. Top remaining seed Virginia is there after last year becoming the first-ever No. 1 to lose to a No. 16 seed; Auburn and Texas Tech are each in their first Final Four; and Michigan State, though a tournament perennial, is seeking its first national championship since 2000.

When CBS last had the Final Four in 2017 (it alternates years with TBS), the two Saturday games averaged 16.75 million viewers, and 23 million watched the title game. On TBS a year ago, the Final Four averaged 13.1 million viewers and the championship a shade under 16 million, the latter figure an all-time low.

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