Audience Insights: The Madness of Measuring March Viewership

03.14.2023 David Gustafson3 min

The phrase “most wonderful time of the year” is most often associated with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – but for millions of sports fans across the country, the second half of March is wonderful in a most maddening sort of way.  Again this year, there’ll be experts for trusting and brackets for busting throughout the three weeks of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, which the NCAA collectively markets as March Madness.  

Combined, the men’s and women’s tournaments feature 136 teams and 134 total games – along with countless buzzer-beaters, upsets, and “Cinderella stories” along the road to championship glory.  In one of the more compelling descriptions of this madness in March, a blog post from Speaking Human likens the event to the cinematic classic The Godfather: “It’s long, epic, and utterly gripping. It’s got a large cast of characters. And it doesn’t always end well for everybody.”  

Well, except for marketers, maybe. This compact college hoops frenzy provides advertisers with a winning combination of high volume and high profile, as both casual observers and frenetic fans follow the action across multiple platforms.

From the TV perspective, understanding the audience delivery across all games is a critical component of a successful tournament run.  Like the brackets themselves, though, the audience numbers can be a bit unpredictable, especially at the local level. 

To illustrate, our Audience Insights team decided to explore one of the signature elements of the men’s tournament – the First Round games on the opening Thursday and Friday.  To narrow the scope of the analysis, we limited our view to last year (2022) and focused on Ron Burgundy’s favorite Cox Media market, San Diego.

Based on that analysis, here is a quick look inside the numbers with our “starting five” of fast facts:

  • #1 – The overall audience rank for the hometown team.  In 2022 in the San Diego market, San Diego State’s First Round game Thursday on TruTV delivered more than double the overall viewership of the second most-watched First Round game, based on household metrics reported independently by Nielsen and Comscore.
  • 24 – The total number of men’s First Round games airing on the Cox Media networks.  For each of the three networks – TBS, TNT, and truTV – that’s four games on Thursday and four more on Friday.
  • 58 – The combined programming hours associated with those 24 TBS, TNT, and truTV First Round games in 2022.
  • 10.3% – The percentage of those 2022 First Round programming hours during which Nielsen reported zero San Diego viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 were watching.  That’s right!  In a market with approximately 1.3 million adults in the critical 25-54 demographic, Nielsen posted a big zero on the scoreboard for six full hours of premium sports programming.
  • 100% – The portion of those Nielsen zeros during which Comscore reported viewing activity within homes that include at least one adult 25-54.  Based on Cox Media analysis of Comscore’s estimates, an advertiser airing one commercial in each of the quarter-hours (i.e., 15-minute increments) during which Nielsen reported zero 25-to-54-year-old viewers would have generated more than 50,000 impressions within San Diego TV homes with at least one person in that age range.

    Adding to that challenging disparity in reported viewership among adults 25-54, Nielsen and Comscore measure and report activity for that demographic in markedly different ways.  In a set meter market like San Diego, Nielsen uses its recruited in-market panelists in an effort to estimate the number of people within the age range who are viewing within any given quarter-hour period.  This persons-based approach is different from the “households with” methodology used by Comscore, which stops short of attempting to pinpoint the number of people viewing.  Instead, Comscore results for adults 25-54 reflect the estimated viewing activity within households with at least one person in that age range.

    If you’re now thinking that local TV measurement of March Madness seems more complex than trying to fill out the perfect bracket for your office pool, you may be right.  Luckily, your Cox Media teams in San Diego and throughout the country are here to help!  We partner with both Nielsen and Comscore, and our research teams are well-versed in both languages – providing you with a comprehensive view of the impact your campaign can have. 

    Let the marketing madness begin!

    Questions?  Use the form to the right to connect with a Marketing Expert or contact your local Cox Media team today!

    About the Author

    David Gustafson

    As Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research, David plays a key role in the company’s usage and interpretation of TV audience data. With more than two decades of industry experience, David currently is a member of the Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore. Known as “The Professor,” David’s articles combine his passion for writing with a penchant for concisely explaining complex topics.

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