Lakers-Suns Tilt Sets Record

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TNT and ESPN are dunking solid ratings through the early action of the National Basketball Association playoffs.

Through May 9 and the first 28 games of its 2006 pro-hoops postseason coverage, Turner Network Television averaged a 2.5 household rating, up from a 2.4 for 29 games at the comparable stage in the 2005 playoffs, according to network officials. Moreover, TNT recorded gains in key demos: up 8% among adults 18 to 34 (846,000 of those viewers); ahead 11% with males 18 to 34 (618,000); and up 3% against adults 18 to 49 (1.17 million)

The drama network’s numbers were elevated by the Phoenix Suns’ game 6 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers on May 4, which registered a 4.1 rating and reached some 3.71 million households — making it the most-watched first round playoff game in cable history, according to network officials.

The previous high of 3.61 million homes came on May 4, 1995, when Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls took on the then-Charlotte Hornets. Lakers-Suns game 6 also set demographic records, becoming cable television’s all-time most watched first-round game among adults 18 to 49, adults 25 to 54 and males 25 to 54.

Turner Sports president David Levy lamented that series’s decisive game. “That was a very entertaining series. Game 7 could have really been a major number, but it was over very early,” said Levy of the blowout that still notched a 3.7 mark on May 6.

He expects even more strength in subsequent rounds, in large part because TNT now has home-market exclusivity and good matchups. “You have the defending champion San Antonio Spurs against Dallas [Mavericks], which has a strong following. While you don’t have the popular Lakers, we still have Los Angeles with the Clippers. Then, you have the league’s most up-tempo team with the Suns.”

Last season, TNT averaged a 3.0 household rating for 44 games.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s first-round coverage generated a 2.3 household rating for nine games, up 10% from a 2.1 average for the same number of games in 2005. ESPN’s efforts were topped by the May 5 series-clinching win by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers over the Washington Wizards, which scored a 3.0 household rating, good for a slice of 11th place in all of basic cable for the week of May 1-7.

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