NCAA championship game gives CBS a TV ratings edge

Flo Thamba of Baylor and Drew Timme of Gonzaga face off during an NCAA Men's basketball championship game
Baylor forward Flo Thamba fights for a rebound with Gonzaga forward Drew Timme in the NCAA Men’s basketball championship game.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

The championship game in the NCAA men’s tournament drew the largest audience for a basketball game since the concluding game of the 2019 NBA Finals, despite Baylor leading from start to finish.

CBS’ coverage of the Baylor Bears’ 86-70 victory over previously undefeated Gonzaga April 5 averaged 16.92 million viewers, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.

The audience was the largest for a basketball game since the Toronto Raptors’ series-clinching 114-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors on June 13, 2019, averaged 18.76 million viewers on ABC.

None of the six games of the 2020 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Miami Heat, which was also carried by ABC, averaged more than 8.89 million viewers, facing unprecedented competition from NFL regular-season games and MLB postseason games from Sept. 30-Oct. 11.


However, the audience was the lowest for an NCAA championship game televised by CBS. The previous low was 17.09 million for Connecticut’s 82-73 victory over Georgia Tech in 2004.

Viewership was down 14.2% from the 19.72-million average for the last championship game, Virginia’s 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech on CBS in 2019.

Viewership for nearly all forms of programming have dropped in recent years because of increased competition from streaming programs, including viewers watching streamed versions of programs simultaneously airing on traditional television.

CBS has televised the championship game from 1982-2015. It has alternated between CBS and TBS since 2016. The tournament was not played in 2020 because of the pandemic.

CBS had each of the five highest rated prime-time programs between April 5-11. “NCIS” was the week’s top-ranked entertainment program, finishing second, averaging 10.26 million viewers, its most since its season premiere Nov. 17 averaged 10.39 million.

“FBI,” which followed “NCIS,” was fourth for the week, averaging 8.07 million viewers.

“60 Minutes” was third for the week, averaging 8.74 million viewers. It followed a 25-minute runover of CBS’ afternoon coverage of the final round of the Masters golf tournament into prime time that averaged 11.47 million viewers.

The runover is not considered a separate program but is included in the weekly network average.

CBS also had the week’s most popular comedy “Young Sheldon,” fifth overall, averaging 6.95 million viewers.

The ABC legal drama “Rebel” had the biggest audience among the week’s three series premieres on the five major English-language networks, averaging 3.65 million viewers, 31st for the week, second in its 10 p.m. Thursday time slot and sixth among the week’s programs beginning at 10 p.m.


The premiere of the ABC comedy “Home Economics” averaged 3.11 million viewers, 42nd for the week and third in its 8:30-9 p.m. time slot Wednesday. It retained 92.3% of the audience of “The Goldbergs” that preceded it. “The Goldbergs” averaged 3.37 million viewers, 37th for the week.

The premiere of the martial arts action-adventure series “Kung Fu” was the CW’s most-watched program of the week, averaging 1.4 million viewers, 81st among broadcast programs. Its overall rank was not available.

CBS finished first in the network race for the 12th consecutive week and 14th time in the 29-week-old 2020-21 prime-time television season, averaging 5.94 million viewers.

NBC edged ABC, 3.46 million versus 3.45 million, to finish second after back-to-back second-place finishes. Fox was fourth for the 11th consecutive week, averaging 1.83 million viewers for its 15 hours of programming.

The CW again was fifth among the five major English-language broadcast networks, averaging 720,000 viewers for its 12 hours.

CBS, NBC and ABC each aired 22 hours of prime-time programming.

NBC’s “Chicago Med” was the top-rated program that was not on CBS, averaging 6.88 million viewers to finish sixth. “Chicago Fire,” which followed, was seventh, averaging 6.65 million.

The Sunday edition of “American Idol” was ABC’s biggest draw for the third consecutive week, averaging 6.09 million viewers, 11th for the week.

Fox’s largest audience, for the fourth consecutive week, was “The Masked Singer,” 22nd for the week, averaging 4.78 million viewers.

The top-rated prime-time cable program was the Monday edition of the Fox News Channel political talk show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” which averaged 3.14 million viewers, 41st overall.

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” accounted for five of the week’s six most-watched prime-time programs. The other was the Wednesday edition of the MSNBC news and opinion program “The Rachel Maddow Show,” second among cable programs and 45th overall, averaging 3.08 million viewers.

Fox News Channel won the cable network prime-time race for the second consecutive week and 10th of the past 11, averaging 2.12 million viewers. MSNBC averaged 1.59 million viewers to finish second after three consecutive third-place finishes during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

HGTV was third, averaging 1.21 million viewers and CNN fourth, averaging 1 million viewers.

“Coming 2 America” was the most-streamed program for the second consecutive week, with viewers watching 770 million minutes in its first full week of release.

Viewership dropped 45.5% from the 1.41 billion minutes watched in the first three days of release of the sequel to the 1988 “Coming to America,” both starring Eddie Murphy.

“Coming 2 America” was the first program or film streaming on Amazon Prime Video to top a weekly streaming Top 10 list, which is customarily dominated by Netflix, and was the only non-Netflix program to make the Top 10 for the week of March 8-14.