By Mike Reynolds
It’s a question for the audience ages: How many viewers would have tuned in Kentucky’s final pursuit of perfection on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But with Wisconsin’s upset of Kentucky in the second national semifinal on Saturday night, we’ll never know how large a championship telecast audience CBS would have netted if hardwood history were still on the line.
Indeed, the combined coverage of TBS, TNT and truTV of the Badgers’ 71-64 rematch win that ended the Wildcats’ run at 38-0, was record-setting, averaging 22.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. That performance made it the most-viewed college basketball telecast in cable television history, shattering the record established on March 27, when 14.7 million watched Kentucky edge Notre Dame in the Midwest regional final on TBS.
The April 4 game, which ended Coach Calipari’s crew’s quest to become the first men’s undefeated Division I men’ college basketball team since Bob Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, was the most-watched Final Four matchup in 19 years and was up 39% over UK’s win over Wisconsin in the corresponding window in 2014. The telecast delivered a 12.4 U.S. household rating/24 share, up 35% over 2014.
The April 4 telecast peaked with 28.2 million watchers a 15.7 rating in the 11 p.m. (ET) quarter hour.
The first national semifinal – Duke’s 20-point drubbing of Michigan State – averaged 15.3 million viewers across the three Turner services, despite the mismatch, a 31% ump from UConn-Florida last year, and the best tally in the window in 10 years. The telecast’s 8.7/19 scored 26% window amelioration.
For the second consecutive year, Turner presented the Final Four matchups in triplicate: the national feed on TBS, flanked by dedicated team streams of the contests from the participating clubs’ perspectives: TNT showed the game, replete with “homer” announcers, for Duke and Kentucky, while truTV’s feeds were in the Michigan State and then Wisconsin camps. The telecasts were sold to an aggregate rating; network breakdowns were not available at presstime.
The doubleheader tallied with 18.9 million viewers on average, up 35% from 2014 and the most-watched national semifinal in 19 years, according to Nielsen data. With only the title tilt remaining, the 2015 version of March Madness has averaged 10.8 million viewers on CBS and the aforementioned Turner trio, a 6% gain over 2014 and the best delivery in 22 years. This year’s 6.7/14 was also up 6% vs. 2014.
The numbers for Duke-Wisconsin to beat in the title tilt: 21.2 million watchers for UConn over Kentucky in 2014; 23.4 million viewers for Louisville’s triumph over Michigan in 2013; and 20.9 million for Kentucky’s topping Kansas in 2012.
How many more casual viewers would have joined college hoops fans and tuned in CBS’s telecast tomorrow if Kentucky were still looking to make history against Duke, a program that Americans love or loathe?
Thanks to the hardwood exploits of Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, executives at CBS, Turner and the rest of us can only wonder.
The author of this piece, Mike Reynolds, is a veteran media and sports reporter and was most recently the news editor at Multichannel News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-320-6532