truTV Gets Back to Court With Huge March Madness Totals

Turner’s truTV on Tuesday put up a double-double, drawing 2.55 million total viewers with its telecast of the first two games of the 2011 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, easing concerns that fans would have trouble finding the action.

In its inaugural sports telecast, the network formerly known as Court TV served up 1.2 million total viewers with its coverage of the UNC Asheville vs. Arkansas-Little Rock opener, a game that began in fringe (6:30 p.m. EDT). Twenty minutes after the Bulldogs advanced with an 81-77 overtime win, some 1.35 million fans tuned in for the night’s second game (Clemson vs. UAB).

Demo deliveries were on an even footing, as truTV’s roundball showcase drew 1.35 million viewers 18-49 and adults 25-54.

As a reward for taking their first games, UNC Ashville will travel to Washington, D.C., where they’ll take on the No. 1 seed in the Southeast, Pittsburgh. Clemson heads to Tampa, where it squares off against fifth-seeded Big East power West Virginia. Both games are scheduled for Thursday, with the latter tipping off on CBS at 12:15 p.m. EDT. In what will be the sixth of 12 games set to air on truTV, the Bulldogs meet the Panthers at 3:10 p.m.

Both games outdrew the closest thing we have to an analogous broadcast; ESPN’s presentation of the March 16, 2010, play-in game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop averaged 1.05 million viewers. To be fair to the Worldwide Leader, last year’s tip-off game wasn’t much of a nail-biter, as the Golden Lions rolled to a 61–44 victory.

If nothing else, the opening numbers seemed to dispel fears that fans wouldn’t be able to locate the front half of the newly minted “First Four” games, a new wrinkle necessitated by the NCAA’s decision to expand the field to 68 teams. After all, truTV is not a familiar sports outlet, and the network is often distributed in some of cable’s more shadowy districts. (For example, in Time Warner Cable’s New York footprint, truTV appears way up the dial on channel 79.)

Tonight’s action resumes on truTV at 6:30 p.m. EDT, as the University of Texas at San Antonio takes on Alabama State. Immediately after that matchup, USC will go head-to-head with Virginia Commonwealth.