The National Basketball Association playoffs tip off today with four opening round series, one on ABC and a trio on ESPN. TNT gets into the action tomorrow with a tripleheader of its own, after ABC's coverage of the Los Angeles Lakers-Utah Jazz game provides a lead-in assist for the drama network.
All three of the league's national carriers enter the playoffs with strong Nielsen momentum, with each posting up double-digit gain in viewers and key adult and male demos during the 2008-09 regular season.
ESPN averaged 1.68 million viewers over 71 2008-09 regular-season contests, a 14% gain from 1.47 million in the prior campaign, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That performance was ESPN's best ever with its pro hoops games coverage, according to network officials. For the season, ESPN averaged a 1.3 household rating, matching the prior year, with households ahead 8% to just under 1.3 million, compared with 1.21 million.
For its part, broadcast brethren ABC scored a 16% gain to 3.68 million viewers on average for 18 games, versus 3.18 million for 19 telecasts in the 2007-08 regular season, according to Nielsen. ABC officials said that performance was the network's best in the last six NBA campaigns. From a ratings perspective, ABC was up 5% to a 2.3 national rating, with households improving 10% to 2.69 million.
TNT, which netted a host of double-digit demographic gains, scored a 14% increase in total viewers to 1.71 million over 53 telecasts -- largely anchored within its exclusive Thursday night doubleheaders -- up from 1.49 million for 52 contests last season, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That was TNT's top audience mark since the 1995-96 campaign, according to officials at the drama network.
As for the playoffs the proceedings begin today with Chicago at Boston at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN; Detroit at Cleveland at 3 p.m. on ABC; Dallas at San Antonio at 8 p.m. on ESPN; and Houston and Portland at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Lakers-Jazz and ABC are first on court on April 19 at 3 p.m.
Then, its TNT's turn. NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com airs at 5:30 p.m., hosted by Ernie Johnson and analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber. They'll set the stage for the first game of the Philadelphia 76ers-Orlando Magic series, which will be followed by the Miami Heat at the Atlanta Hawks at 8 p.m. The nightcap comes courtesy of the New Orleans Hornets and Denver Nuggets at 10: 30 p.m.
NBA TV is also on the roster during the opening round, with coverage of second game of Magic-Sixers on April 22 at 7 p.m. and Game 2 of the Spurs-Mavericks matchup the next day at 8:30 p.m.
The league's in-house service, which reached a contract renewal with DirecTV this week for an expanded level of service, starting next season, will also supply extensive pre and post-game coverage via its NBA Game Time show.
TNT is set to embark on its annual heaping helping of hoops with its presentation of "40 Games in 40 Nights," capped by exclusive coverage of the entire Eastern Conference Finals.
All told, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will combine on 44 post-season NBA telecasts, a lineup that will feature broader exclusivity - conference semifinal coverage will be exclusive across ESPN and ABC for the first time, while the Western Conference Finals are the province of ESPN and ABC.
The latter airs all of The Finals contests in June.
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