ESPN, TNT Savor NBA Revival


ESPN and Turner Network Television have high expectations for a strong ratings finish to their respective 2003-04 National Basketball Association regular-season cable packages.

Despite an acute ratings drop for its Feb. 15 NBA All-Star Game telecast, TNT is expecting to continue its first-half ratings surge as the season winds down toward the playoffs, while ESPN is riding a 15% ratings lift going into the second half of its 2003-04 NBA schedule.

Through 34 games, TNT is averaging a 1.4 rating for Thursday-night doubleheader telecasts, up 27% over a 1.1 rating for the same number of games last year.

In the second half, a favorable schedule, featuring some of the league’s top teams, should help TNT to match the 20% increase the network experienced during the second half of last season compared with that season's earlier games, Levy said.

ESPN is averaging a 1.5 rating through 39 games, compared with a 1.3 mark after 40 games last season, ESPN vice president of research and sales development Artie Bulgrin said.

Along with an increase in household ratings, he added, ESPN posted increases among male viewers, including the 18-34 and 25-54 groups. "It appears that the audience is broadening, and there’s much more tune in than it was last year," he said.

Bulgrin pointed to the influx of new league stars such as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, as well as greater viewer recognition of ESPN’s NBA telecasts for the network’s good ratings fortunes.

ESPN will add seven Sunday games to its Wednesday and Friday NBA lineups, which Bolgrin believes will further boost ratings for the network.

"We feel pretty good about holding on to these numbers going into the playoffs," he added.