March Madness: Final Four Sets Cable Hoops Viewing Marks

Three Turner networks teamed to tally the most-watched college basketball games in cable history with their coverage of the Final Four.

TBS, TNT and truTV’s presentation of  Kentucky’s last second win over Wisconsin in the second of the National Semifinals garnered a 9.2 U.S. household rating (11.0 cable mark) that grossed 16.3 million viewers to become the most-viewed college basketball game ever on cable, according to Nielsen fast nationals data

The first Final Four contest, which marked the first time the National Semifinals of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship appeared on cable, netted a 6.9 U.S. rating (8.2 cable) and 11.7 million watchers for UConn’s convincing upset of overall tourney top seed Florida.

Although the doubleheader from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas now stands as cable’s best college hoops telecasts, the deliveries were down from the 2013 Final Four, which aired on CBS. The 2013 early game between Wichita State and eventual champion Louisville drew 14.5 million viewers, 4% more than the corresponding 2012 contest. The second contest between Syracuse and Michigan grew 3% from 2012 with 17.1 million viewers.

The 2014 Final Four averaged 14 million viewers, an 11% decline from the 2013 matchups.

TBS, which offered the main feed, combined with flanking "Teamcasts" on TNT and truTV, which presented the games from the perspectives of one team. Fans watching TNT saw a focus on Florida in the opener and Kentucky in the nightcap, while those who tuned in truTV viewed things from UConn and Wisconsin perspectives, respectively.

The breakdowns for the games were not provided, as the same commercials were sold and ran across all three of the Turner networks.

The Connecticut-Florida telecast peaked with an average of 16.2 million total viewers and a 10.9 cable rating in the 8 p.m. half hour, while the Kentucky-Wisconsin tangle was at its height with an average of 18.6 million total viewers and a 12.7 coverage rating from 11 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. – when Aaron Harrison pushed Kentucky to the title tilt with a three-pointer with just under 6 seconds left in its 73-72 triumph.

Digitally, the National Semifinals delivered unprecedented growth across March Madness Live.  The two games notched 3.8 million live streams, up 76% over last year.  The doubleheader also combined to register more than 1 million hours of live video consumption, up 37% over 2013. 

According to Social Guide, the Final Four prompted more than 1.8 million tweets – that were seen by nearly 200 million followers – for a 36% increase over last year.