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Where Did NCAA Tournament Audiences Go Without March Madness to Watch?

The absence of live sports has left some glaring holes on television, but for advertisers, those can also be new opportunities. For instance, while March Madness was lost as a big draw for TV audiences, those people didn’t go anywhere. In fact, they’re still watching TV -- just not actual sporting events. analyzed a segment of TV viewing households that watched at least four games during the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and using its proprietary media measurement platform, can help us understand the networks and dayparts those same households are viewing during the third week of March 2020 (when the NCAA Tournament would’ve gotten started).

Using iSpot’s “reach index,” we’re able to show how much more likely the segment of viewers that watched four NCAA Tournament games is to tune into certain networks and dayparts (vs. the general population). Interestingly enough, they were still watching sports networks during the week of March 16-22 -- even without games airing.

The top five network/daypart combinations, arranged by reach index:

  1. ESPNU (Day Time): 131.08%
  2. ESPNU (Early Morning): 120.23%
  3. ESPN (Early Fringe): 117.11%
  4. ESPN (Weekend Day): 109.70%
  5. NBATV (Early Fringe): 106.34%

People that watched at least four NCAA Tournament games are not just fans of college basketball -- they’re fans of sports overall, and fans of the conversations around sports as evidenced by these results. No new games were played in the time period, so all of these are either from studio shows or game re-airs.

Despite some lower impression numbers overall without games airing, sports networks are still showing a great ability to draw in sports fans -- especially NCAA Tournament viewers -- at a higher rate than the general population. For advertisers that may have missed getting in front of those viewers without March Madness going, this data provides a roadmap about how sports content is still one of the best places to find them, making up 39 of the top 40 network/day part combinations by reach index.

Interestingly, these viewers did not spend the most time on those networks. Per average minutes viewed data, that mostly went to news (Fox News, Univision) and… Hallmark movies?

Top five network/daypart combinations, arranged by avg. minutes viewed:

  1. Fox News (Day Time): 110.07
  2. Fox News (Early Morning): 99.23
  3. Fox News (Early Fringe): 89.18
  4. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (Weekend Afternoon): 87.71
  5. Univision (Day Time): 85.18

News and Spanish-language networks were also among the networks to increase minutes viewed (among this cohort) week over week. Coronavirus concerns are fueling a desire for additional information. And without sports to distract, these viewers -- like many others -- are looking for news to fill the time. Eight of the top 10 week-over-week increases in average minutes watched came from either news or Spanish-language networks.

Top five network/daypart combinations, arranged by week-over-week change in avg. minutes viewed:

  1. MSNBC (Early Morning): 127.05%
  2. PBS (Primetime): 99.57%
  3. Disney Channel (Over Night): 92.89%
  4. Fox News (Early Fringe): 86.76%
  5. NBC Universo (Over Night): 85.55%

John Cassillo is an analyst and contributor with TV[R]EV.