I’m no bracketologist (nor do I know how one attains college credits to be one) but if you had VCU and Butler in the Final Four, I’d say you’re pretty good at picking the winners. Even if you don’t know a thing about college basketball, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. The ratings for the 2011 NCAA Tournament are the best since 2005. More than nine million people are tuning in.
CBS Sports’ and Turner Sports’ exclusive live coverage of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship across TBS, CBS, TNT, and truTv was a massive undertaking. For the first time in tournament history you could watch any game you wanted. The reality is it was an gamble by CBS to keep it’s pride and joy — its “one shining moment“ — away from the worldwide leader in sports a.k.a ESPN. An $800 million gamble at that.
CBS’ contract with the NCAA was up last year and it got into a major bidding war with ESPN. ESPN has the announcers, the crews, the channels, and the sports cache to create an all-encompassing tournament. Which is why CBS offered the NCAA the same home-cooked meal they’ve been getting since 1982. Only now they can get it at the neighbors’ houses as well, yet feel right at home. The NCAA said yes to CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV.
The great thing about the tournament is that no matter how many marquee games CBS may have tried to line up for itself, there was no way to tell if the next great game was going to be on CBS or TNT or truTV or TBS. But the viewers seemed to find what they were looking for just fine. In fact, the first Friday of the tourney exploded, scoring the highest rating since 1991. That’s staggering in this day and age of streaming video, niche programming, and the billions of cable channels that have sprouted since 1991. It shows CBS’ gamble paid off.
The tournament will stay with CBS and its neighbors until 2013. What happens to truTV next week? That’s a different post for a different time.