NBA’s Postseason Lifts TNT, ESPN

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For the second straight year, Turner Network Television and ESPN notched slam-dunk ratings increases with their National Basketball Association playoffs coverage.

TNT — which televised 43 playoff contests over 45 nights, including an exclusive presentation of the Western Conference finals — posted a 3.4 rating, up 10% from last year’s 3.1 average, according to Turner Sports president David Levy.

Stellar performances included the decisive game six of the Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, which posted a 7.3 rating on May 31. That was the highest-rated playoff game in TNT history and second best on cable, behind only the drama network’s coverage of the pro hoops league’s 2003 All-Star game (8.2), the last for Michael Jordan.

The 6.8 rating for the May 25 Lakers-Timberwolves Game 3 telecast was the third highest-rated NBA cable game. Overall, the NBA helped TNT generate a record 2.8 primetime ratings average in May.

“We had a fantastic season on all fronts,” Levy said. “We grew last year in double digits and this year, we grew again in double digits. Two years back to back is just a great way to start our six-year agreement with the NBA.”

Levy said rookie stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony; the popularity of such teams as the Lakers and last year’s champion San Antonio Spurs; and the addition of Rasheed Wallace to the finalist Detroit Pistons were “storylines that helped put the focus on the playoffs this year.”

ESPN said it posted a 2.7 rating for 26 playoff games, up 13% from a 2.4 for 20 telecasts last season. Ratings for ESPN’s Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers Eastern Conference finals grew 36% to a 3.8 for six games, versus a 2.8 for two games last year.

The network’s May 25 Pistons-Pacers game set a network basketball viewership record drawing 4.4 million households, as well as a network NBA ratings record with a 5.0, according to ESPN senior vice president of research and sales development Artie Bulgrin.

The NBA Finals will air on ABC. NBA commissioner David Stern said the NBA TV digital channel, currently in 10 million homes, is close to completing carriage agreements with Adelphia Communications Corp. and Charter Communications Inc.

Speaking at a luncheon last Wednesday, Stern said he expects digital sports tiers to expand by 3% to 5% a year, which should help extend NBA TV’s reach.

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