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NBA, NHL Make a Ratings Playoff Push

The first rounds of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League postseason have delivered strong ratings performances for cable networks.

The opening round of the NBA Playoffs, which began April 14 and ended April 29, averaged 3.3 million viewers across five networks — ABC, TNT, ESPN, NBA TV and ESPN2. That’s a 3% increase compared to the same period in 2017, one of the league’s most-watched postseasons in several years.

Further, the league said it generated more than 1.3 billion video views during the first round of the playoffs across its social media accounts, up 58% from last year’s first round.

The NBA’s postseason performance is an extension of the league’s most-watched regular season since 2013-14. The appeal of established teams like the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as resurgent campaigns from the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics, have helped drive postseason ratings, network executives said.

“It’s reflective of the great storylines the NBA presents during the post season as well as the superstars who up their games when the bright lights are on, and that benefits all of us,” Scooter Vertino, senior vice president of production and programming for Turner Sports and content, programming and production for NBA Digital, said.

Individually, TNT’s 23 live game telecasts drew an average of 3.6 million viewers, up 5% compared to the same period in 2017 and the network’s most-watched first round coverage since 2014.

Game 4 of the Cavaliers-Indiana Pacers series on TNT April 22 was cable’s most-watched first-round NBA Playoffs contest since 2012.

“This is one of those perfect storms where we would ride that momentum as far as it will take us,” Vertino said. “We expect the audience will continue to grow as the stakes get higher as the rounds progress.”

On the ice, NBC Sports Group is enjoying the best start to its NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage in six years. Through the first three weeks of the playoffs, which began April 11, combined coverage on NBCSN, CNBC, Golf Channel, USA Network and broadcast network NBC — as well as and the NBC Sports app — averaged 891,000 viewers in total audience delivery, which network officials said was the best performance since 2014. On the digital side, NBC Sports said its live streaming coverage of 51 playoff games has already set records for total live minutes (245 million) and unique users (1.7 million).

NBC Sports executive producer and president of production Sam Flood said the programmer’s coverage of the NHL playoffs is thriving despite the playoff absence of four of the popular “Original Six” franchises: the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.

“It’s been a great start to the playoffs,” he said. “The on-ice action has been as compelling as you can ask for, and it’s gotten people to pay attention at a higher level than in the past few years, so it’s very exciting.”

Pictured: The resurgence of franchises like the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics is boosting ratings for the NBA Playoffs.

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.