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Final Four telecasts rank as 2nd-most-watched since 1998

Continuing the tourney's strong run, a pair of hotly contested Final Four games has pushed the 2017 version of March Madness to the second-highest-viewing level since 1994.

With only the championship game ahead — North Carolina squares off against Gonzaga on April 3 — the 2017 NCAA tournament has averaged 10.4 million watchers, up 14% from the 2016 event, according to data from Nielsen Holdings, and the second-highest level in 23 years.

Meanwhile, NCAA March Madness Live continues to extend its streaming record and has now generated 93.5 million live video streams through the Final Four, according to data from Conviva.

The April 1 Final Four matchups — North Carolina versus Oregon, preceded by Gonzaga against South Carolina — averaged 16.8 million viewers on CBS (US), according to data from Nielsen Holdings. That was up 44% from 2016, when both national semifinals were blowouts, but aired on three different networks — the primary feed on TBS (US), and team-centric presentations on TNT (US) and truTV.

The 2017 match-ups also marked the second-most-watched Final Four since 1998, trailing only the 2015 games, which included then-undefeated Kentucky's quest for the first perfect season in men's college basketball since 1976.

North Carolina's victory over Oregon on April 1 was watched by an average of 18.8 million viewers, a 46% jump from the Tarheels' squeezing of Syracuse last year before 12.9 million viewers. Saturday's night telecast scored the second-highest-viewer average for the late Final Four telecast in 19 years, behind the 22.6 million for Wisconsin's upset over Kentucky in 2015, which also ran on the aforementioned trio of cable networks, and stands as the most-watched basketball game in cable history. The April 1 telecast peaked with 20.5 million viewers in the 11 p.m. ET quarter hour.

The early semifinal contest, Gonzaga-South Carolina, averaged 14.7 million viewers, a 40% jump from Villanova-Oklahoma in 2016, making it the second most-watched Final Four game in that window since 2005. The game peaked with 20.6 million viewers in the 8:15 p.m. quarter hour.

As to tonight's telecast on CBS, the immediate number to beat is 17.8 million, the average audience for last year's title telecast in which Villanova toppled UNC as the clock expired.

Despite the thrilling conclusion, the title telecast, which marked the first time in tournament history that the championship game ran on cable, airing across TBS, TNT and truTV, garnered the fourth-smallest audience for the college hoops championship match. Villanova-UNC was down 37% from the 28.3 million viewers for the Duke-Wisconsin championship game in 2015 on CBS.