ESPN to Launch NBA Coverage

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ESPN will debut its National Basketball Association coverage this week with great fanfare, but tempered ratings expectations.

The cable channel on Oct. 30 will tip off the six-year, $2.4 billion NBA package it shares with the co-owned ABC Television Network — the first two of 76 regular-season games and up to 24 post-season contests it will televise during the 2002-03 campaign.

ESPN president George Bodenhiemer wouldn't reveal the network's NBA ratings expectations, but said it was looking for an increase over what had generated in those time periods.

On Wednesdays — previously home to National Hockey League telecasts — ESPN said it averaged a 0.7 rating in November and December 2001. On Friday nights from October 2001 through May 2002, the network averaged a 1.0 with live and library programming.

Despite a slew of weekly telecasts — Turner Network Television will also air doubleheaders on Thursdays — NBA commissioner David Stern isn't concerned about oversaturation.

"I think that what has been demonstrated now is that if you have compelling programming that viewers want, audiences are going to find it," Stern said in a seperate interview with Multichannel News. "Whether it's The Osbournes
on MTV [Music Television] or The Anna Nicole Show on E! [Entertainment Television], the National Football League on ESPN or the NBA on TNT and ESPN, audiences are going to find it."

Stern — who spoke last week at an NBA launch event here — also said the league is expecting to announce affiliation agreements for its NBA TV digital cable service in November. The channel is slated to carry an additional 98 games, beginning in February.

On the technology side, ESPN will introduce a "Free Flight" camera angle that will capture action from over the court, said network senior coordinating producer for the NBA Jamie Reynolds.

Similar to the "Sky Cam" employed during its National Football League coverage, the camera moves from end to end and side to side with the ability to rise or descend on pre-programmed or operator-controlled flight paths, he added.

Also, ESPN's "Above the Rim" camera angle, positioned above the basket, will be equipped with super slow motion capability, affording more detailed replays.

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