Turner Sports Thursday (July 30) will kick off its coverage of the NBA’s return the court with a TNT doubleheader telecast of the New Orleans Pelicans-Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers games, part of the network’s 18-game TV schedule for the league's shortened regular season that will run through the first two weeks of August.
Turner Sports executive vice president and chief content officer Craig Barry answered my questions about the importance of the league’s return after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as some of the production adjustments the company has made to cover games from the NBA's bubble in Orlando. An edited version of the interview appears below.
How important is the return of the NBA from the perspective of a TV sports marketplace hit hard by the pandemic?
It’s very important, both for the marketplace and passionate fans of the game. We saw that enthusiasm from sports fans with (Turner Sports’ May 24 charity golf event) The Match a few months ago and there’s a ton of interest in the highly-anticipated return of the NBA. Premium live sports are must-see programming that drive large audiences, and the NBA fits perfectly into that formula.
How is TNT tailoring its coverage of the NBA from Disney's Orlando facilities?
It’s really a made-for-TV event. First and foremost, we’re going to focus on capturing everything happening on the court with an emphasis on access and storytelling. We’ll have a camera accompaniment and audio capabilities that are the equivalent of our NBA on TNT Conference Finals coverage for all game telecasts, including several new camera positions that will bring fans closer to the action than ever before. Combined with the NBA’s next gen enhancements, we’re looking forward to presenting the game in a new, creative way in Orlando.
How many Turner Sports production people will live in the bubble?
Above all else, we are prioritizing the health and safety of everyone involved so it will be a scaled down version including only those colleagues that are absolutely essential to the production itself.
What are the audience expectations for TNT and NBA TV games?
We never predict performance metrics, but there is clearly strong interest in the return of live sports and we have a very compelling schedule with prominent storylines. We’re hopeful that will be reflected in our audience figures.
Does the shift in schedule to having NBA games in the summer and early Fall hurt potential ratings, particularly with competition from other pro sports?
Traditionally that would be the case, but we’re in uncharted territory and there is no normal right now. We know there’s always a strong appetite for live sports, especially right now, and our focus is on the content itself and presenting the best product we can for our fans.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.