TNT, ESPN Benefit from NBA Revival

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National Basketball Association ratings are on a roll on cable. But while both rightsholders are posting double-digit gains in households and demos, Turner Network Television holds the early-season edge over ESPN.

Measuring 18 games through Dec. 18, the drama network notched a 1.6 household average, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That represented a 33% leap from the 1.2 TNT averaged for the same number of contests at this point in last season.

TNT's demo growth was even more robust: 47%, 51% and 57% rises against males 18 to 34 (431,000 of those viewers), 18 to 49 (761,000) and 25 to 54 (690,000), respectively.

Among adults 18 to 34, TNT is ahead 41%, averaging 577,000 of those watchers, up 44% with persons 18 to 49 (1.04 million) and 49% with the 25-to-54 group (976,000).

"There are great stories happening around the NBA. [Cleveland Cavaliers rookie] LeBron James and [Denver Nuggets newcomer] Carmelo Anthony, the [Los Angeles] Lakers and their dominance and Dallas' [Mavericks] new-look team are keeping all the excitement and interest at a high level," Turner Sports president David Levy said in a statement.

TNT's next NBA doubleheader telecast is on Jan. 8, when the Houston Rockets meet the Cablevision Systems Corp.-owned New York Knicks, followed by Paul Allen's Portland Trail Blazers at the Minnesota Timberwolves.

ESPN, meanwhile, recorded a 15% increase to a 1.50 household ratings for 25 games through Dec. 19, from a 1.31 for 27 matchups at that stage of the season a year ago. ESPN2 improved 11% on a household basis to a 0.52 for four games, compared with a 0.47 for six cablecasts last year.

Demographically, ESPN was off 5% with impressions among men 18 to 34 (374,406 of those watchers), but registered amelioration with males 18 to 49 (12% to 716,422), 25 to 54 (24% to 660,357) and guys 55 and older (20% to 237,155).

ESPN2 was up across the board with male impressions: a 6% gain among the younger ones (150,792); 14% with the 18-to-49 group (268,052); 21% among the 25-to-54 crowd (253,474); and 25% with the senescent set (81,120).

With the Western Conference dominating the NBA, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the late-night windows (at least by East Coast time zone standards) have enjoyed more growth during the season thus far.

Gauged on a household basis, the second games of TNT's Thursday doubleheaders (eight thus far) were ahead 56% to a 1.64 average, according to Nielsen data. ESPN's late primetime contests were up 13% to a 1.72 on Wednesdays (three contests) and 22% on Fridays to a 1.59 (eight contests).