NCAA Tournament Selection Show Finds Better Ad Success in One Fewer Hour

After last year’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show lasted two hours and featured a frustrating alphabetical team reveal followed by a gradual bracket rollout, college basketball fans were begging for some sort of return to normalcy. And this year’s CBS broadcast of the annual “Selection Sunday” event gave it to them with a succinct, one-hour broadcast that quickly showed all four regions in the 68-team bracket and then moved onto analysis from there.

It was not only a win for fans, but for advertisers as well, according to real-time TV advertising measurement company According to iSpot, the 2019 edition of the show had over 164 million TV impressions over the course of the hour — nearly 50 million more than the two-hour version on TBS in 2018. With a brisk pace and limited commercial time, this year’s format made every second must-watch TV and captured viewer attention in a way that the longer event just couldn’t the previous year.

The Selection Show also provided the first look at many ads that will air during the NCAA Tournament broadcasts on CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV over the next three weeks. AT&T, Buick, Wendy’s, Sonic Drive-In, Capital One and Buffalo Wild Wings were some of the top Selection Show brands by impressions. Last year featured a similar group, with AT&T (an NCAA corporate champion) leading the way, along with Buick, Indeed, Northwestern Mutual, Google Cloud and Buffalo Wild Wings.

To little surprise this time of year, college basketball is posting strong numbers for CBS already — and will continue to do so through the tournament. Since March 4, college basketball has generated over a billion impressions on the network, with 18 times the amount of estimated spend (according to iSpot) as the closest competitor. Looking at just March 11 through 17, college basketball still led the way in terms of ad impressions. But it’s worth noting that overall college basketball programming on CBS only had 3.5 times more impressions than the Selection Show… despite showing 180 more ads.

The Selection Show — which attracts interest from fans of at least 80 different teams each year — delivers a ton of value from an audience perspective.

As the schedule moves into the actual NCAA Tournament, though, impressions numbers will be climbing for CBS. Over the last two weeks, CBS’s average audience is about 53.4 percent female and 46.6 percent male, according to iSpot. College basketball on CBS was split 64.7 to 35.3 in favor of males, however. Assuming something near those numbers holds as the audience grows, it’ll mean a huge influx of non-traditional viewers for the network.

The 2018 NCAA Tournament was the eighth-best CBS show of the year in terms of ad impressions -- and that only accounts for a little more than half of the event’s 21.1 billion impressions across CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV. If the Selection Show is any indication, it may wind up with even more this year given the hype around the top teams and stars like Duke’s Zion Williamson.

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