Audience Insights: Comscore and Nielsen Measure the Madness of March

03.21.2024 David Gustafson5 min

College basketball makes its annual ascent to the top of the sports world with the three-week extravaganza the NCAA has trademarked as March Madness.  The Division I women’s and men’s basketball championships are the ultimate reality television, with more than 1,600 athletes on 136 teams competing in a total of 134 games that will crown this year’s national champions in college basketball. 

Again this year, Cox Media networks will carry the dominant share of tournament action, with more than 100 live March Madness games – including the Women’s Final Four and the Men’s National Championship.

As our team here at the Audience Insights desk gears up for another round of buzzer-beaters, Cinderella stories, and busted brackets, we have been busy behind the scenes navigating new developments from the two companies tasked with tracking how many of us will be watching this year’s tournaments – particularly Comscore’s recent release of persons-level viewing estimates, which for the first time provides a more direct comparison to Nielsen’s local viewership numbers. 

With that, we invite you to join us as we take a step back behind the arc for a shot at three viewership findings from last year’s tournaments: 

Nielsen shows more March Madness viewers per household.

Based on analysis of local viewership from the 2023 NCAA tournaments across Cox Media’s primary TV markets, Nielsen’s numbers show more co-viewing – i.e., a higher ratio of total viewers (P2+) to households.  For the men’s tournament coverage on Cable networks, Nielsen reports approximately 1,460 viewers per 1,000 households tuned in, compared to 1,268 viewers per 1,000 households in the Comscore data.  For the women’s bracket, Nielsen reports 1,323 vs. Comscore’s 1,220.          

Comscore reports higher share of female viewers for March Madness.

Both Nielsen and Comscore report a higher share of female viewers for the women’s tournament compared to the men’s tournament – and, interestingly, Comscore’s female audience share edges Nielsen’s numbers for both tournaments.  Across the Cox Media TV markets, Comscore reports that nearly two of every five (39.7%) women’s tournament viewers are female, compared to Nielsen’s 37.7% estimate.  For the men’s tournament, Comscore reports 36.9% female viewership, compared to 34.7% for Nielsen.

Comscore and Nielsen disagree on the age distribution of tournament viewers.

Perhaps the biggest disparity between the Nielsen and Comscore March Madness numbers comes when examining the age distribution of the audience.  For both the women’s (53.9%) and men’s (57.5%) tournaments, Comscore’s numbers in Cox Media TV markets show a majority of the viewers are under the age of 50.  Nielsen’s numbers, meanwhile, paint a different picture.  Less than 43% of Nielsen’s men’s tournament average audience is under 50 years of age – and less than one in three (32.4%) women’s tournament viewers falls into that category.

So, what do we make of all this measurement madness?  As discussed during our Q1 “Ask the Experts” webinar, Nielsen and Comscore measure March Madness and just about everything else on television in similar but different ways.  That reality, as we’ve seen here, can lead to different answers to the questions of who’s watching what, when, and where.  Cox Media continues to analyze data from each measurement provider as part of our ongoing commitment to data-informed decision making.  And when it comes to March Madness, one thing is clear from both Nielsen and Comscore – millions of viewers across the Cox Media footprint will be tuned in for this year’s women’s and men’s tournaments.

When you’re ready to fill out the perfect bracket for your next ad campaign, your local Cox Media team is here to help!  Until then, may this year’s March Madness brackets be ever in your favor.

Headshot_David Gustafson
About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Audience Research, David drives positive outcomes for marketers by applying a unique blend of data-informed analysis, industry expertise, and storytelling skills that have earned him a tenured role as the company’s “Professor.” Specializing in audience measurement and market intelligence, David is a member of the Ampersand Cross-MVPD Research Committee, Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore.

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