NBA Nets Cable-Centric TV Packages

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After weeks of speculation, the National Basketball Association finally
announced its national TV future Tuesday -- one that is filled with cable and
extends through the 2008 season.

Under the six-year contract, Turner Network Television will add more NBA
playoff games to its schedule, while pulling all league coverage off sister
network TBS Superstation.

In addition, through a jointly owned network, currently called All-Sports
Network, the league and TNT parent AOL Time Warner Inc. plan to distribute 98
games (all but two regular-season) for the proposed sports channel.

The deal will also move ESPN into NBA coverage for the first time since 1984,
with The Walt Disney Co.-owned service showing both regular-season and playoff
games, while broadcast brethren ABC replaces NBC as the home of the NBA
Finals.

With the deal, ESPN becomes the first service to carry coverage of all four
major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey) in a given
year.

The networks did not disclose terms of the deals. However, published reports
valued the agreements at some $4.6 billion to $4.7 billion, with AOL Time Warner
allocating some $2.1 billion to $2.2 billion and ESPN/ABC's share worth a
reported $2.4 billion.

ESPN president George Bodenheimer said there would be no surcharge for
operators to help underwrite the costs of this deal, which, he noted, extended
across a variety of ESPN and ABC properties, each of which take an 'appropriate
allocation' of the rights.

For its part, TNT gets 52 regular-season games, most scheduled as exclusive
Thursday-night doubleheaders with no competition from Fox Sports Net regional
services or local stations.

The channel will also run up to 45 playoff games, including one
conference-final round and both conference-semifinal rounds in their
entirety.

And in a cable first, the NBA All-Star Game will air on TNT.

ASN -- or whatever moniker it will ultimately bear -- is slated to be pitched
to operators over the next few weeks, Turner Sports president Mark Lazarus
announced during a conference call with reporters.

It's not clear yet whether the service will replace either CNN/SI, which will
be shuttered later this year, or NBA.com TV, but Lazarus did note that the NBA
'will take the lead on distribution' of the service.

Some cable operators carry NBA.com TV as a digital adjunct to pay-per-view
sports programming.

ESPN will run 75 regular-season games on Wednesday and Friday evenings
(doubleheaders), plus 22 playoff games, including a complete conference-final
series.

The channel may also schedule one game on New Year's Day, competing against
ABC's college-football Bowl Championship Series and cablecast after ESPN's
Outback Bowl game, according to ESPN senior vice president and general manager
of programming Mark Shapiro.

ESPN's package include both video-on-demand rights for NBA-game time-shifting
and Spanish-language rights, the latter suggesting that some ESPN games may run
on its Deportes package.

Ancillary league coverage includes the NBA Draft, which is moving over from
TNT.

ABC, out of the NBA's TV picture since 1973, will air 15 regular-season
Sunday-afternoon games and at least five early round playoff games.

The network will also run NBA Inside Stuff, the weekly recap show
currently airing on NBC, with ABC Family getting second plays.

In addition, ABC Family will be home to wrap-up shows immediately following
ABC's coverage of the NBA Finals.

AOL Time Warner and ESPN held separate conference calls with reporters about
their agreements, rather than making a joint announcement.

NBA commissioner David Stern was absent from both events.

Executives from the three parties attributed the situation to logistics.
'This is not due to a lack of partnership,' added ABC TV (and former ESPN)
president Steve Bornstein

From AOL Time Warner's corner: 'There's nothing to read into this situation,'
Lazarus said.

An NBA spokesman said Stern was attending the sporting-goods industry's Super
Show trade show.

In a prepared statement, Stern expressed delight that 'two of the most
significant media entities in the world have joined with the NBA to bring the
greatest game played by the world's best athletes to fans everywhere.'

The deal leaves the league 'uniquely positioned for long-term success,' Stern
added.

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