NBA Confirms Turner Talks

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The National Basketball Association will not sell its NBA TV network, along with its digital assets, to Turner Sports or other suitors, but rather will look for strategic partners to help run and manage those properties, according to NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern confirmed to Multichannel News last week that the league is talking to Turner about creating a partnership that would allow the cable programmer to operate the network's 12 million-subscriber NBA TV, as well as some of the league's digital assets, including its NBA.com Web site.

“We're not talking about a sale of the assets,” he said. “We're talking about a joint venture where the ownership of the assets would remain with us, but [a partner] would be responsible for operating them and they would share in the profits based on various benchmarks.”

Speculation about a potential sale of those assets was fueled this past August, when Bloomberg News reported that the league offered buyouts to NBA TV staff in preparation for a then “unidentified media company” to assume operations.

Two weeks ago, Turner Sports president David Levy said the network was in talks with the league to acquire rights to a litany of digital and linear content, including NBA TV and NBA League Pass — the league's out-of-market subscription game package.

Levy last week said that there were no new developments in its talks with the league.

Overall, Stern said the league is bullish on the revenue potential from digital distribution of video content, but said the league has no plans to offer a standalone package of live online games similar to those offered by Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Currently, only subscribers of the league's $159 NBA League Pass can watch live games on the Web.

“I'm from the old school, and as such I ultimately see some degree of cannibalization [of the TV product through the Web],” he said. “So that's why we're testing now but we haven't taken the next step.”

Levy also said Turner won't stream its 52-game TNT Thursday night NBA telecasts via the Web even though it's acquired the rights to do so as part of its new eight-year deal with the league. Instead, the network will look to offer different camera angles and isolation cameras on marquee players like Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James online to complement its weekly telecasts.

“I'm not sure [fully-streamed games] are exactly where people are going to want to see and view [games],” Levy said.

ESPN also has rights to stream all 72 of its regular-season NBA telecast schedule, but network executives say it has yet to iron out its digital plans.

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