How Sweet is March Madness Streaming?
The nation’s top four men’s college basketball teams are set to face off after a flurry of activity over the past week for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. With top teams dominating much of the tournament, the resulting heavyweight matchups made for an exciting weekend. Total viewing hours saw a big lift, up 108% during the Sweet 16 rounds year-over-year, compared to the 65% increase in the first two rounds of the tournament.
For overall viewership by market, Wichita – Hutchinson, Kansas tuned in nearly as heartily as they did for Rounds 1 & 2, again claiming the #1 spot with 4.2x higher than expected viewership based on population size, despite Kansas and Kansas City teams losing in earlier rounds. Charlottesville, Virginia claimed the #2 spot with 3.2x higher than expected viewership, bolstered by 3.5x+ on UVA game days Thursday and Saturday. Lafayette, Indiana rose to #3 rallying for Purdue with 3.1x higher than expected viewership, with 4x on Thursday as Purdue tasted victory and 3.5x for their loss on Saturday. Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky round out the top 5 with 2.1x and 1.6x higher than expected viewership despite Sunday’s upset as Auburn which reached the Elite Eight for just the second time in their history, knocked out Kentucky.
Honorable mention goes to Spokane, Washington, breaking into the top 10 with 1.6x higher than expected viewership on Thursday for Gonzaga’s final victory of the tournament. Also of note is Lubbock, Texas cheering on their hometown heroes Texas Tech with 1.9x higher than expected viewership on Saturday as the top-seeded Gonzaga’s offensive machine succumbed to the Red Raiders. Saturday also saw Virginia make it to the Final Four for the first time since 1984 with their win over Purdue, despite Indianapolis, Indiana cheering on their team with 2x higher than expected viewership and an elite performance from Carsen Edwards. Lansing, Michigan broke into the top 5 on Sunday with 1.6x viewership for Michigan State’s defeat of Duke to end Zion Williamson’s stellar showing in the tournament.
Delivering TV-scale live events is taxing on the infrastructure of the internet, as it was not built for video. But publishers continue to invest in preparations, redundancies, and real-time data intelligence to ensure that the quality of live streaming sports continues to improve. Overall buffering decreased even more in the Sweet 16 than earlier rounds, down 83% from 2.75% in 2018 to a stellar 0.48% in 2019. This is significantly better than the overall rate of 0.69% noted in Conviva’s 2018 State of the Streaming TV Industry report, with all devices beating that watermark as mobile delivered 0.66% buffering, PCs 0.57%, and connected TVs an impressive 0.37%.
Quality for connected TV devices was led by Apple TV with the least buffering at 0.20%, shortest start time of 2.46 seconds, and highest picture quality with a bitrate of 6.95 Mbps. Across all devices, overall video start time was also improved by 12% in 2019, while overall picture quality saw significant improvements with an average bitrate of 4.5 Mbps up from 4.31 Mbps in the first two rounds and up 23% from the 3.7 Mbps delivered in 2018.
For devices, the second week of March Madness resulted in significantly more viewership via connected TV than the first, accounting for 56% share of viewing as compared to 48% captured on TV in week one. Mobile also saw slightly more in the second week with a 26% share as compared to 23% the week prior, while viewership via PCs was down significantly to 14% as compared to 24% in first week of the tournament. Among connected TV devices, Roku maintained its dominance as the connected TV device of choice with 44% of all connected TV viewing, up from 38% in 2018. FireTV dropped 3% in share to capture 24%, while AppleTV gained 4% in share to net 11% of connected TV viewing.
Total plays saw an increase of 89% during the Sweet 16 rounds as compared to the 45% increase over the first two rounds of the tournament. Among device types, connected TVs netted the highest growth in plays, up 163% year-over-year, with FireTV, Roku, Apple TV, and Xbox all tallying triple-digit growth in plays over what was seen in earlier rounds. Mobile saw 65% growth in plays, nearly 3 times the 24% earned in the first week. Growth in plays on PCs was up slightly from 18% in the first week to 27% in week two. Minutes per play was up significantly in the Sweet 16 rounds as fans tuned in longer on all devices: 9.5 on mobile, 25.6 on PCs and 36.9 on connected TVs as compared to 7.5, 18.4, and 27.4 minutes per play respectively in Rounds 1 & 2.
As we stream into the Final Four, with a lineup very few predicted in their bracket, Conviva will be measuring to see how the trends evolve and whether significant growth and quality improvements continue.