A Postseason Nielsen Drive

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ESPN and Turner Sports hope to rebound from sluggish regular-season ratings with strong showings for the National Basketball Association playoffs.

After posting increases during the first two years of its six-year, $2.2 billion NBA deal, Turner Network Television’s performance for its 2004-05 Thursday night regular-season package dropped to a 1.3 household average from last season’s 1.4 mark, according to Turner Sports president David Levy.

He attributed the decrease to opening-night competition from the presidential election and the demise of the popular Los Angeles Lakers, which failed to qualify for the playoffs this season.

PARITY AT PLAY

Nevertheless, Levy believes that TNT’s NBA ratings fortunes will bounce back with the playoffs, although he would not project whether the drama network would match last year’s 3.4 average. With 40 postseason telecasts over 40 nights and exclusive coverage of the Eastern Conference semi-final and finals rounds — TNT offered Western Conference coverage the past two seasons — Levy said the network is in good position.

“What we see now is that it’s a much more competitive environment where every team has a chance,” said Levy. “You have Phoenix, Indiana, Detroit, Sacramento — you have a lot more punch and each game has more intensity.”

ESPN is also hoping league parity will help drive its playoff ratings above last year’s 2.7 mark. ESPN’s regular-season ratings average declined 8% to a 1.2 from last season, according to Kelly Laferriere, a vice president within ESPN’s programming and acquisitions division.

“There’s no doubt that last season the Lakers and the [Cleveland] Cavaliers [with then-rookie phenom LeBron James] generated exceptional ratings, but the league as a whole is competitively strong,” she said. “Clearly, it will be tough to live up to last year’s numbers, but we’re optimistic and still bullish about the property and our relationship with the NBA.”

The league’s service, NBA TV, will definitely air three playoff games and could add up to six others, depending on scheduling.

PROMOTIONAL PRESS

Both networks are heavily promoting their respective playoff packages on air. TNT last week launched an on-air spot featuring several NBA players and music from Fatty Koo, a new group that’s being profiled as part of a new Black Entertainment Television reality series.

In addition, TNT will team with 20th Century Fox to promote the studio’s Kingdom of Heaven during its playoffs coverage, producing and airing four customized in-game vignettes matching the stars of the Crusades film, Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons and director Ridley Scott, with on-air talent Charles Barkley, Steve Kerr and John Thompson.

Laferriere said the playoff coverage will benefit from an on-air promotional effort on all ESPN networks, as well as an unprecedented off-channel campaign that will tie in the various properties across The Walt Disney Co. 

Sister broadcast network ABC will add four more telecasts, including primetime game coverage of the Eastern Conference semi-final and finals. The broadcast network, which together with ESPN is in the third of a six-year $2.4 billion NBA deal, will again telecast the finals.

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