The Madness and a Sunday to Remember

A star-studded Sunday lifted the NCAA Tournament to its highest average in at least 26 years.

Coverage of the NCAA Tournament averaged 9.3 million viewers across CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV through Sunday, per Nielsen fast-nationals — up 10% from last year (8.5M), up 1% from 2015 (from 9.25M to 9.33M) and the highest average through the first weekend of play since the current scheduling format began in 1991. The previous highs were set in 2014 and 2015.

Through Saturday, the tournament was up only 2% from last year and ranked as the third-most watched since 1991. That changed with a big performance for Sunday’s games, which averaged a combined 11.9 million viewers over four telecast windows — up 34% from last year (8.9M) and the largest audience for the first Sunday since 1993.

The early evening window, which included Kansas-Michigan State on CBS and North Carolina-Arkansas on TNT, was the top draw with a whopping 18.6 million viewers across CBS, TNT and TBS — up 38% from last year (13.5M), up 22% from 2015 (15.2M) and the largest audience in the window since 1991.

That was followed by 11.3 million for the late evening window on TNT, TBS and TruTV, up 36% from last year (8.3M), up 11% from 2015 (10.2M) and the largest audience in the window since it was formed in 2011 (prior to the current TV deal, there were only three telecast windows on Sundays). Coverage included South Carolina-Duke on TNT and UCLA-Cincinnati on TBS.

Earlier in the day, Kentucky-Wichita State had 10.3 million on CBS — up 23% from Notre Dame-Stephen F. Austin last year (8.4M) and up 20% from Duke-San Diego State in 2015 (8.6M). Compared to Kentucky-Wichita State in 2014, which aired in the same window, viewership declined 15% from 12.1 million.

Michigan-Louisville started things off with 7.3 million on CBS, up 38% from Villanova-Iowa last year (5.3M) and about even with Virginia-Michigan State in 2015 (7.3M). Exact figures were unavailable, so the game may have been up or down slightly.