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March Madness’ Thursday TV Ratings Were Higher Than Last Year

Tom Huddleston, Jr.

On a day with only a few major March Madness upsets, the NCAA still managed to pull in some of the best ratings for the tournament’s first Thursday in decades.

The NCAA said on Friday that the four networks (CBS and Turner Broadcasting’s TBS, TNT, and TruTV) airing college basketball games on Thursday--the first full day of March Madness--scored Nielsen household ratings that were up 5% from the tournament’s first day last year. According to the NCAA, the four networks averaged a household rating of 5.9, up from last year’s average rating of 5.6. (Nielsen’s household ratings measure the percentage of homes in the company’s metered markets watching a specific program or event.)

Not only that, but the NCAA added that Thursday’s ratings actually tied 2011 for the tournament’s third-best ratings for the first Thursday of March Madness since 1991, which was the first year that every game of the NCAA tournament was shown on television. (The NCAA did not say which two years scored the highest ratings.)

The tournament’s highest ratings came during the primetime hours, with the four networks scoring a 7.2 household rating between 6:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET, which was up 9% over last year.

There were also more people streaming the games online. The NCAA said that its March Madness Live app saw 29 million “live video starts” on Thursday, which was up 19% over last year’s first day of March Madness. The association said that the app saw the most concurrent streams during the conclusion of Princeton’s near upset of the higher-seeded Notre Dame. Thursday’s only big upsets were 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee State’s victory over five-seed Minnesota and 11th-seeded Xavier’s win over six-seed Maryland.

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While Nielsen’s breakdown of cable networks’ Thursday ratings have not yet been released, early results for broadcast networks show that CBS averaged 4.6 million viewers for its primetime games last night, according to Nielsen’s numbers. That’s a 10% improvement over the 4.17 million viewers who tuned in to CBS for the first Thursday night of last year’s March Madness tournament, though those results also represent a major dip from CBS’ usual Thursday night comedy lineup.

Last week, the network’s Big Bang Theory, which is the most-watched sitcom on network TV, pulled in more than 13 million viewers for its 8 p.m. ET Thursday night slot.

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