Last year Turner, in their first year airing the Final Four, decided to supplement their main coverage on TBS with two “teamcast” feeds on TNT and truTV, offering team-centric coverage of each team in each game. The result, however, was people turning on the teamcasts thinking they were the main feed and complaining about the “biased” announcers. So as much as Turner may have publicly proclaimed the Teamcasts a “success”, when they announced they would be repeating the Teamcasts this year, it was clear they would need to do more to direct people to the main feed on TBS and let them know what the purpose of the Teamcasts actually were, whether over the previous rounds of the tournament or at the Final Four itself.
Kentucky may have just done more to achieve that goal than anything Turner did or could do itself.
One of the more noteworthy elements of the Teamcast fiasco was that the vast majority of complaining tweets concerned the TNT Teamcast, and TNT’s viewership far outpaced truTV’s viewership for both teamcast games, making up a substantial chunk of the viewership for both games. Because of this, a leading theory for the cause of the Teamcast fiasco, or at least a factor that might have exacerbated it, was that people associated TNT with “the basketball channel”, not making the association Turner wanted them to make with TBS as the network for college basketball. To me, this only made sense if it only applied to those people that hadn’t watched TBS’ coverage of the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight; if they had watched those games, they could have probably figured out that TBS was airing games in rounds TNT wasn’t, and was likely to continue doing so into the Final Four. But the numbers back that up as well: TBS’ Elite Eight games last year had viewership numbers of 9.97 million and 7.2 million. The Final Four games had audiences of 10.39 million and 7.1 million on TBS alone. In other words, Kentucky/Wisconsin didn’t improve much over the Elite Eight numbers on TBS alone, and Connecticut/Florida did worse on TBS alone than either Elite Eight game. The Teamcast confusion primarily affected people parachuting in for the Final Four without necessarily having watched much of anything from the earlier rounds.
Fast forward to this year, when Kentucky played Notre Dame in a thrilling fight to the finish with Kentucky’s perfect season on the line on TBS. The result was a game that attracted an 8.4 household rating and 14.7 million viewers, the highest-rated and most-watched college basketball game on a single network in cable history (which opens up a whole other can of gripes for me, but whatever). That’s 14.7 million viewers with no choice but to turn on TBS to watch the game, and 19.7 million tuning in during the quarter-hour starting at 10:45 PM. To put that in perspective, Connecticut-Florida only attracted 11.65 million viewers last year across all networks, while Kentucky-Wisconsin attracted 16.25 million.
How many of those millions of people that turned on TBS to watch Kentucky-Notre Dame will now know to turn on TBS to watch the Final Four? We’ll know in a week’s time how this year’s Teamcast (or “Team Stream” as it’s being billed this year) works out; ideally both games would see the vast majority of their audience flip to TBS and leave tiny portions of the audience on TNT and truTV. But if Duke-Michigan State sees most of its audience turn on TBS, but Kentucky-Wisconsin sees only about 13 million or so people turn on TBS, we’ll know any improvement in TBS’ numbers vis-a-vis the teamcasts will have had more to do with the Kentucky-Notre Dame game than anything intentional on CBS or Turner’s part. Even that, though, would still be a massive improvement over last year.