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NBA Playoffs A Ratings Slam Dunk

6/07/2008 5:11 AM Eastern

The National Basketball Association playoffs proved to be a ratings score for Turner Network Television and ESPN.

Buoyed by the playoff appearances of the league’s top stars such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James — as well as competitive series matchups — both TNT and ESPN posted double-digit increases for their respective two-month NBA playoff coverage.

ESPN drew 4.1 million viewers for its 17 playoff telecasts, which included exclusive coverage of the Boston Celtics-Detroit Pistons Eastern Conference Finals, according to ESPN senior director of programming Doug White. That was up from last year’s 2.8 million viewers for its 2007 playoff coverage.

Some 6 million people on average watched the Celtics triumph over the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference series, well above the 4 million viewers for the Cleveland Cavaliers-Pistons finals in 2007.

“It was just great basketball,” White said. “A lot of the players the league had high expectations for got into the playoffs and performing well,” he said. “Also you had a lot of the best teams still competing for the NBA Finals like Boston, Detroit, the Lakers and the Spurs, which is why viewers tuned in.”

For TNT’s part, its 41-game NBA playoff run averaged 3.1 million viewers, up 14% over the 3.2 million viewers last year over 43 games. In addition, the network scored double-digit increases in several key demographics, including a 25% increase in adults 18-34 (1,217,000 vs. 972,000); a 22% increase in adults 18 to 49 (2,243,000 vs. 1,833,000) and a 30% bump in men 18-34 (911,000 vs. 702,000).

The network’s exclusive coverage of the five-game Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs Western Conference finals — won by the Lakers — averaged 6.3 million viewers, up 25% over the 5 million garnered by last year’s Spurs-Utah Jazz final.

Both networks also stepped up broadband playoff coverage — in part due, to digital deals reached last fall with the league giving the networks rights to stream their games live over the Web.

While ESPN could not provide final streaming numbers for its live broadband playoff games, White said that visits to ESPN.com’s NBA content during the playoffs were up 54% compared to last season.

“It really speaks to our message that we want to provide fans with sports everywhere and anywhere they are,” he said. “Whether they’re at home or out on the road, they can access exciting content on our Web site.”

While Turner did not simulcast its live game coverage on its NBA.com, Levy said the network nevertheless generated more than 3 million live streams during the Western Conference finals, which featured isolated player cams.

“I really believe that we will continue to have complementary coverage — not the exact television feed — but maybe real-time highlights, different camera angles in the short term,” he said. “In the long term, who knows?”

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