Networks Make NBA Playoff Push

With Dwayne Wade scoring 28 points to earn MVP laurels, the East edged the West 141-139 in the 59th annual NBA All-Star Game before a basketball record crowd 108, 713 at Cowboys Stadium.

Now, TNT and ESPN are banking on a big ratings score from their coverage of the pro basketball league's playoff stretch run after posting a relatively flat first-half regular-season performance.

Heading into the NBA All-Star Game — the unofficial halfway point of the regular season — TNT’s Thursday-night NBA telecasts were averaging 1.75 million viewers, slightly up from 1.74 million over the same period last year, according to network officials.

Bolstered by the continued robust performance of marquee NBA franchises such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as premiere players LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, TNT’s NBA coverage has posted first-half regular-season increases for three years straight, according to Turner Sports president David Levy.

“To be able to show [first-half viewership] growth again shows the strength of the NBA and the NBA brand, and certainly the power of sports on television,” Levy said.

Viewership for ESPN’s Wednesday- and Friday-night NBA telecasts are slightly down — 1.67 million viewers versus 1.68 million — compared to the same period last year. Network senior director of programming and acquisitions Doug White said ESPN jumped out to a slow start due to a head-to-head competition with baseball’s World Series, but has turned the corner of late.

“It was a little bit of a hole that we had to dig out of, but we’re doing that, and our games are performing well,” he said. “I think it goes to show the strength of the league.”

It’s that strength that White believes will propel the network’s second-half ratings fortunes, particularly as teams make personnel moves to better position themselves for a playoff run.

“All the speculation that’s out there about who’s going where has really sparked a lot of interest with fans as teams who are trying to maintain their playoff position or get into the playoffs start to make that push,” White said. “I think the second half of the season is going to be exciting as teams make sure they’re in the top eight of their respective conferences.”

ESPN and sister broadcast network ABC are planning in mid-March to showcase some new technological innovations within their respective telecasts, although White would not offer specifics.

Levy is also bullish about TNT’s performance throughout the rest of the NBA regular season.

“From a sales perspective, we’re up big year over year — probably in the high double-digits in just revenue, and we see that continuing,” he said “The matchups are going to get stronger — we just see that momentum continuing.”

R. Thomas Umstead

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.