The Predictable Unpredictability of March Madness Streaming

March Madness is an appropriate moniker for the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, which kicks off with 48 games played in just 4 short days. While 2018’s tournament saw major upsets, including a 16-seed team defeating a one-seed who was favored to win it all, 2019 has been comparatively unremarkable. While those kinds of underdog wins are exciting, a lack of unexpected shakeups in the first 48 games did nothing to curtail streaming TV viewing, with total viewing hours up 65% and total plays up 45% over the first two rounds of the tournament.

The highest peak concurrency (the moment at which the most viewers are streaming at once) came in the first two rounds, at 211% above average peak concurrency measures across the first two rounds, came at 2:50 pm Eastern on Thursday as Florida State was wrapping up their win against Vermont, and Michigan State tipped off against Bradley. The highest peak in round two, at 134% of average, came at 6:30 pm Eastern on Sunday as fans tuned in for both the excitement of Texas Tech taking on Buffalo and UCF battling top overall seed Duke before succumbing in the final seconds. In 2019, Thursday’s peak was 38% higher than 2018, while Sunday’s was 58% higher than the previous year’s peak. Saturday saw the least viewing, despite Purdue besting 2018 national champion Villanova (although the game that was never really close), and Auburn’s victory which was the only upset during the second round.

For regional viewership Kansas is in a league of their own, with 3 of the top 5 market areas cheering on Kansas and Kansas State with higher than expected viewership based on population size. Wichita-Hutchinson, Kansas was by far the leader with 5.7 times expected viewership along with Topeka, Kansas delivering 2.7x and Kansas City, 2.5x. Charlottesville rallying for UVA with 3.6x and Lafayette, Indiana rooting for Purdue with 3.1x fill in the middle of the top 5. With more than 2x expected viewership, Columbus (Ohio), Lexington (Kentucky), Des Moines – Ames, Cincinnati, and Lincoln and Hastings – Kearny rounded out the top 10 markets.

How people tuned in to the first two rounds of March Madness is just as interesting as how many tuned in. PCs surprisingly bested mobile in share of viewership with 24% to mobile’s 23%, likely as viewers tuned in from their desks at work. Both decreased in share from the 29% each captured in 2018. It’s no surprise with the growth of connected TVs that they are the big winner capturing 48% of all viewing hours, up from 41% in 2018. Among connected TV devices, Roku was the clear leader with 43% of all connected TV viewing, up from 38% in 2018. FireTV dropped 3% in share to capture 22%, while AppleTV gained 3% in share to net 15% of connected TV viewing.

 

Among device types, connected TVs saw the most growth in plays, up 109% year-over-year, with FireTV, Roku, Apple TV, and Xbox all seeing triple-digit growth in plays. Mobile saw only 24% growth, significantly less than their 94% growth throughout 2018, while PCs saw 18% growth, significantly more than their 1% growth in 2018, as reported in Conviva’s 2018 State of the Streaming TV Industry report. Fans tuned in much longer on connected TVs than other devices, watching 27.4 minutes per play to the 18.4 on PC and 7.5 on mobile.

If viewers feared missing a second of Zion Williamson’s master class featuring highlight reel dunks and blocks, they were likely pleasantly surprised by the quality of the streaming this year. Buffering was down significantly from 2.06% in 2018 to 0.50% in 2019 for the first two rounds of the tournament to beat both the 2018 live buffering rate of 0.76% and the overall rate of 0.69% noted in Conviva’s 2018 State of the Streaming TV Industry report.

Among devices, FireTV saw the least buffering of any device at 0.21% and connected TV was most improved year-over-year to deliver the least buffering at 0.36% compared to PCs at 0.54% and mobile at 0.70%. Among mobile, iPhones were the clear winner with only 0.38% buffering while Android phones saw 1.12% buffering.

Picture quality was also improved in 2019, with bitrate of 4.31 Mbps, up 18% from the 3.66 Mbps measured in 2018. Consistent with Conviva’s 2018 State of the Streaming TV Industry report, Apple TV delivered highest bitrate as well as the shortest start time. The improvements in quality are impressive as providing excellent quality of experience is particularly difficult during times of high peak concurrency as was seen throughout the first two rounds of March Madness.

In an unlikely scenario, the top three seeds in each region all moved on to the Sweet 16, with Auburn and Oregon joining the pack as the only Sweet 16 teams not among the top four seeds in their region. This should make for some excellent viewing in the coming rounds. Make sure to check back as Conviva measures every second of the tournament, to see what this means for streaming!

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