NCAA title game viewership drops 37 percent in cable debut

Villanova’s last-second victory over North Carolina in the U.S. men’s college basketball championship, which aired on cable TV for the first time Monday night, drew 37 percent fewer viewers than last year’s title game.

The 77-74 thriller that ended with a three-point shot at the buzzer attracted 17.8 million total viewers on TNT, TBS and TruTv, all Time Warner Inc. networks, according to a written statement Tuesday. That’s down from the 28.3 million who tuned in a year ago to see Duke beat Wisconsin on CBS in the NCAA championship—a marquee matchup that was the most-watched in 18 years.

Monday’s audience was the smallest for the final game since 2009, when 17.6 million people watched North Carolina beat Michigan State.

The ratings, while down sharply from a year ago, marked the second-biggest cable audience ever for a college basketball game, according to the statement from Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit, which aired the tournament with CBS Corp. The matchup was also the most-watched program across all TV on Monday.

The game, played in Houston, didn't get started until well after 9 p.m. in the eastern part of the United States, a factor that might have reduced some viewership.

Time Warner has spent billions of dollars buying the rights to air NCAA, Major League Baseball and NBA games to lure viewers and ad dollars. The company owes $7.3 billion to the Indianapolis-based NCAA over the next nine years of its broadcast rights deal.

March Madness draws more advertising revenue than any other postseason sports franchise besides the NFL playoffs, according to research firm Kantar Media. Last year, advertisers spent $1.19 billion on TV ads—a 4.8 percent increase from 2014—and were expected to exceed that amount this year, according to Kantar.

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