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March Madness: Best Overnights For First Thursday Since 1991

With a number of upsets and tight contests, combining with the new format coverage, CBS and Turner Sports recorded the best first Thursday performance with the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship in metered markets since 1991.

The new teammates in March Madness -- CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV -- scored a 5.7 U.S. overnight household rating and 13 share across four windows, according to Nielsen data.

That performance was up 24% from a 4.6/11 for CBS's solo coverage of the first Thursday of the 2010 tournament. Under their new 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA, CBS and the three Turner networks -- for the first time in the tourney's 73- year history -- are devoting national windows to all 67 contests. Previously, CBS had televised the action in a wrap-around fashion.

The March 17 tallies were the highest for the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament in the metered markets since 1991, when the event expanded to four telecast windows for the entire day, according to CBS and Turner.

Officials at the media companies, which sold the tournament to advertisers on an aggregate rating basis, expected the new presentation format to generate more impressions than when CBS carried the action alone.

In the first telecast window of the day -- noon- 4:15 p.m. (ET) -- the four networks combined to average a 4.4/15, up 42% from a 3.1/10 in 2010. The second window - 3 p.m.-6:45 p.m. (ET) netted a 5.1/13, a 46% jump from a 3.5/10 last year.

With their coverage into the evening/primetime, the four networks' third window -- 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m. - opened to a 6.5/12. That marked an 8% improvement from a 6.0/11 a year ago.

During the final window -- 9:15 p.m.-12:30 a.m. -- the quartet aggregated a 6.9/13, 13% higher than last year's 6.1/12.