March Hoops, Madness, and a Nun

What a tournament, what a month! March Madness once again stayed true to its name as for the first time ever in the first round, a 16-seed team upset a one-seed who was favored to win it all. This was followed by the exciting journey of the 11-seed Loyola Ramblers progressing into the final four, powered by the most unlikely champion, a 98-year-old nun rooting the Ramblers on!

This is what makes NCAA March Madness such an amazing sporting spectacle fueled by equal parts of skill and emotion — we love to watch it for both the drama and the sport of it.

The tournament drives incredible viewing rates, with unexpected peaks and valleys as hot contests flare up and down across the country. Consumers can watch the tournament via multiple means:  traditional TV, over the Internet via several sources that includes apps from original broadcasters and multiple VSPs (vMVPDs). At Conviva, we have the good fortune and challenge of providing measurement and analytics services for the digital broadcasters of the tournament, both the original broadcasters and the VSPs that have become so popular in this past year (Virtual MVPDs Ended 2017 with 5.3M Subs: Study). This distributed, live digital viewing trend is one of the major changes we have seen between this year and last, but more on that later.

The opening round of 64 often drives the most unexpected and sometimes greatest total viewing given its wide appeal across all fans. When comparing 2017 to 2018 digitalstreaming audience, Conviva saw a 7% increase in total number of streams watched and a 12% increase in peak viewership, the total number of viewers streaming at the same time. This trend demonstrates the increasing popularity of digital live streaming that is either complementing or supplanting traditional TV viewership. Even with this increased internet streaming volume, all publishers were able to deliver a 7% improvement in the stream quality/resolution (called bitrate) that ranged from 3-4Mbps on average across all streams delivered to all devices. This is a testament to the fact that the internet, digital broadcasters, and client devices and software are continuing to improve.

In the opening round, the historic upset where 16-seed UMBC beat overall tournament-favored one-seed, Virginia, Conviva saw an 11% increase in unique devices used to stream. This demonstrates the increase of multi-screen viewers, and possibly suggests that multiple screens are streaming in the same household at any given time.

Digging into the multi-screen details:

    • The number of streams on connected TVs (smart TVs, set top boxes, and game consoles) increased by 36% compared to last year.
    • Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) saw viewing time increase by 29% correlated with a 28% increase in average bitrate and a 7% decrease in buffering. Mobile streaming is getting better!

We also saw interesting geographic trends, with Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas experiencing the largest increase in number of streams year-over-year (up to 36% increase) correlated with their respective state teams being in the tournament in larger numbers or for the first time in recent history. March Madness truly spans geographies, psychographics, and demographics!

The Final Four round truly epitomized this year’s themes where one game had two one-seeds battling, where as the other had an eleven-seed up against a three-seed. Turner put out a release based on Conviva data that showed increases in live streams (up 28%) and hours consumed (up 14%) compared to the same coverage two years ago, the last time the Final Four aired on Turner networks.

After the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Michigan Wolverines in the final game we compiled the final statistics for the entire tournament across all internet broadcasters and saw a 7% increase in the total number of streams along with a whopping 30% increase in total viewing time. Clearly live sports broadcasting is no longer solely the purview of traditional broadcast TV. Broadcasters are getting better at delivering live streams, as we saw a 33% reduction in streams that failed to start (video start failures). We also saw a 56% increase in the number of unique devices/apps used to watch the tournament in 2018.

The next generation of live sports viewing will be driven by high-quality delivery of streams to any device, any time, and anywhere, something that can only be done via the internet. We are excited to see what else this next generation of TV brings!