NCAA final will deliver higher ratings

Commentary

Expect a bounce-back ratings and viewership performance for the NCAA Tournament championship game Monday night.

That’s because the game returns to broadcast television on CBS after airing on cable (TBS) last year.

As part of the NCAA’s agreement with its broadcast partners (CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV), the semifinals and championship game alternate depending on the year of the agreement.

Last year was the first time the games aired exclusively on cable, and 17.8 million viewers watched as Villanova completed a memorable victory over North Carolina.

That was down significantly — 37 percent — from the 28.3 million who watched Duke-Wisconsin on CBS in 2015.

While dozens of networks and searchable viewing options would seem to diminish the difference between broadcast and cable outlets, that’s clearly not the case.

Even though many sport properties moved to cable during their most recent contract agreements — an effort to get the benefit of rights fees bolstered by cable bills — the trend of users going away from cable, and quickly, has changed the relationship somewhat.

Fewer people watching on cable, “cord cutters” leave cable in big numbers each month, means less revenue for sports entities like the NCAA and professional leagues. Also, some younger media consumers have never had cable.

As a result, the old-school broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) remain positioned to again find an important role in sports coverage.

They might not wrestle back rights immediately, but they can usually deliver bigger audiences for advertisers — and how that plays out moving forward will be interesting.

Through the first two weeks of the tournament, ratings are up 8 percent from last year.

It’s the fourth highest-rated tournament since 1993. Last week’s regional finals were up 8 percent from last year, too.

We’re down to just two teams at this point and the overall uptick seems likely to continue. While baseball’s opening day stretches into Monday nights, matchups like Indians-Rangers, Mariners-Astros and Angels-Athletics seem unlikely to impact how many people watch the basketball game.

Backing Berman

As expected with Chris Berman’s move to a reduced role, ESPN split his NFL-related duties into three pieces.

Samantha Ponder will host “Sunday NFL Countdown” while Suzy Kolber gets host duties for “Monday Night Countdown” and the “Monday Night Football” halftime and postgame shows.

More immediately, Trey Wingo will host all three days of the network’s coverage of the NFL Draft.

Each of the three makes sense in some ways, and each has earned the opportunity. In addition, the moves make Berman or whoever hosts the shows less likely to become a de facto representative of the NFL while completing their assignments.

Clearly, the league-rights holder relationship is always muddied, but Berman’s longstanding relationship sometimes made him seem more of a champion for the league than someone reporting on the action.

Tuner tidbits

n Baseball’s regular season begins on Root Sports for the Pirates at 2:05 p.m. Monday as a three-game series opens in Boston against the Red Sox. Subsequent games are 7:10 p.m. Wednesday and 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

n One TV loss with the end of the college basketball comes with the absence of those Capital One commercials featuring Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. It’s typically a fun and funny series of commercials.

n Belated thanks to ESPN and its family of networks for coverage of the Division I hockey championship, including Penn State’s run to the regional final in Cincinnati. While it was good to see the action, the on-air team of Kevin Brown and Colby Cohen clearly were not the network’s best crew.

n In case you missed the swap of radio and talent swap during the Pirates’ spring training game against the Rays on March 21, the move to combine Steve Blass, Bob Walk and John Wehner on TV with Greg Brown and Joe Block on radio led to national attention — because the guys staged an on-air feud. While it was designed as a fun break during spring training, it grabbed some national attention because some thought the exchange was real. It was nothing of the sort.

n Second-ranked Penn State plays host to No. 5 Ohio State in a primetime men’s lacrosse matchup tonight. The match airs at 7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

Sampsell comments on TV and radio for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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