Less than a month before the 2003-04 season opens, the National Basketball Association's NBA TV digital service has secured its first cable affiliate deals.
Cablevision Systems Corp., Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable will offer the 24-hour channel beginning next month — but all three will place the service on a digital tier or in an operator's most costly all-in-one package, network officials said.
Launched as a digital service last January, after three years as a barker service for the NBA League Pass pay-per-view package, NBA TV had been unable to secure cable distribution. Direct-broadcast satellite providers DirecTV and EchoStar Communications Corp. carry the service, which will offer four live NBA games a week, nearly half of them shown in HDTV.
25 cents sought
Terms were not disclosed. Sources said the league got close to the 25-cent per-subscriber fee it initially pitched to operators last year.
But it won't get highly penetrated analog distribution. Most carriage will come on digital tiers.
NBA TV President Ed Desser would not reveal specific subscriber projections for the network season's launch (Oct. 28) but said the league is pleased.
"The three MSOs together represent 22 million subscribers," Desser said. "This will be a rollout that takes place over several years."
Time Warner plans to launch the service as part of a digital sports tier that is currently offered in 75% of its systems.
Time Warner would not provide penetration rates for the tier, which ranges in price from $2 to $5.
Time Warner Cable executive vice president of programming Fred Dressler said the network's flexibility in allowing carriage on its sports tier helped broker the deal.
"We're excited about the product and we think the NBA knows what they're doing," Dressler said. "The network's programming lineup, including 96 live games, should be very appealing."
Cox is also expected to roll out the channel on a digital sports-and-information tier, which also includes History Channel International, ESPNews, and the Golf Channel.
Cablevision will place the network in its highest-priced "iO Gold" digital-cable package, according to sources. The $84.95 package includes all of the MSO's analog, digital and premium services, according to sources.
Along with live games, NBA TV will air nightly updates and highlights of games during the season, as well as vintage games and related programming.
Desser said the network will also debut several new shows beginning next month, including a reality miniseries focused on the Denver Nuggets' pre-season training camp. Staying within the reality genre, NBA TV will bow in November NBA Makeover, in which current NBA players, league veterans and street-ball legends get their basketball skills, wardrobe, style and attitude remade by outsiders, Desser said.
Also debuting on the channel is a weekly magazine show that features international players and highlights a foreign game of the week.