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March Madness: Must See TV

Maybe CBS and Turner had representatives in the NCAA selection committee this year. That would explain some of the screwy seeding – and the uptick in ratings.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We have seen the future of live sports on video - and it is March Madness.

The first week of the 2014 NCAA Basketball tournament drew the best viewership in 21 years, averaging over 9.2 viewers on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.

Last Thursday night's games in the early evening window set the tone as the contests averaged almost 12 million viewers across the four networks. Two 5-12 upsets (both going into overtime) along with the St. Louis overtime win over North Carolina State kept eyes glued to the three cable channels (TBS, TNT and TruTV).

The late evening shift had only one marquee game - Texas' buzzer beater over Arizona State on CBS pulling an average of 9.2 million viewers.

The first two nights saw three 12-5 "upsets" along with three other double-digit winners (#11 Dayton, woefully under rated #11 Tennessee and #10 Stanford).

Primetime ratings were up across the board over the weekend, with Saturday pulling in over 13 million viewers.  #11 Dayton's win over #3 Syracuse and #2 Wisconsin's win over #7 Oregon led the way.

The mixmaster results from week one have positioned March Madness to have one of the best Sweet 16 TV runs in years.

Just look at the matchups that CBS will have in primetime:

#4 Louisville vs. #8 Kentucky

#1 Florida vs. #4 UCLA

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee

#11 Dayton vs. #10 Stanford

Marquee names littered throughout the lineup.

The Sweet 16 should have its largest ratings in years, which will help compensate for the fact that the Final Four will be on pay TV for the first time - hurting the potential size of the viewing audience.  The championship game will be on CBS.

But it isn't the raw numbers that gives a look into the future of live sports viewership - it is who is watching, along with how and where they are watching.

Follow The Money

According to Kantar Media, in 2013 March Madness generated $1.15 Billion in ad revenue.

The NFL playoffs sold $1.1 Billion in ads last year.

This year a 30-second spot in the men's championship game went for $1.5 million.  $1 million would get you a spot in the Final Four.

Advertisers believe it is worth it for a couple of reasons. According to the NCAA, 149 million people watched March Madness last year on TV at home. You can add another 32 million viewers who watched part of the tournament across other platforms - computers, ipads, iphones and other out-of-home video devices.

The out-of-home viewership is easily the fastest growing segment of the viewing audience. According to Turner Sports, video streaming of the tournament this year is already off the chart.

In 2013 there were a total of 49 million video streams during the tournament. In just the first week of this year's event, Turner says there have already been 51 million live streams, creating more than 10.5 million hours of live video watching over various platforms.

It's only been since 2011 that every game of the NCAA tournament has been telecast nationally, generating much more ad revenue.

Up to now having a majority of the games on pay TV has not slowed down the money machine, but in 2016 both the Final Four and the championship game will be on pay TV (TBS). All other major sports will be watching the ratings - and the reaction of fans - with deep interest.

In 2010, CBS and Turner agreed to pay the NCAA $11 Billion for the rights to March Madness through 2024.

It just might be the Deal of the Century.