March Madness: Has Cinderella Overstayed Her Welcome?

The Sweet 16 brackets don't look all that sweet to CBS executives as they look at their draw filled with bracket -- and potential ratings -- busters.

With all the dramatic finishes and the upsets, CBS saw its first week ratings go slightly down from 2009.

CBS averaged a 5.3 rating for the 15 coverage windows from Thursday through Sunday. The tournament averaged a 5.4 rating in 2009. Fans say they love the "David vs Goliath" factor in March Madness, but not enough to tune to watch David play again.

When George Mason reached the Final Four, ratings were the lowest they have been this decade (of course this is the exception that proves the rule). The fear this year is that so many casual fans have had their office pool brackets blown up, so they will lose interest for the rest of the tournament.


Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas caused a lot of upset stomachs at CBS as well.

Brand names like North Carolina, Connecticut, UCLA, Arizona and Indiana were not part of the 65-team event to begin with. When Kansas and 11 Big East and ACC teams go out on the first weekend, it makes CBS executives big fans of Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse.

The highest rated Sweet 16 regionals this decade was in 2005, when only two of the teams were seeded lower than 6th. This year there are 3 double-digit seeds in the regionals.

The one real bright spot for CBS has been the online activity. Thursday saw a record number of unique viewers (3 million) log on to watch game action. They accounted for 3.4 million hours of audio and video streaming, up 20% from 2009.

Still, the next two weeks ratings numbers will be carefully scrutinized by both CBS and the NCAA. A ratings decline might make the NCAA more nervous about expanding the tournament to 96 teams using its "opt-out" clause with CBS and leave behind a guaranteed 2 billion over the next three years to open up the bid process.

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