Turner Sports hopes to ride its regular-season National
Basketball Association ratings success into the league's playoffs.
Turner Network Television's ratings for the truncated
NBA season are up 6 percent over last year's numbers, while TBS Superstation is
charting a 1 percent increase over the 1997-98 season.
Turner Sports senior vice president of programming Kevin
O'Malley said the ratings are tremendous, considering the fears that the value of the
league would drop after the six-month owner's lockout.
Most industry observers predicted a major backlash from
fans frustrated over the lockout, which cancelled one-half of the season.
Even more surprising has been the strength of the
network's late-night doubleheader games featuring such Western Conference teams as
the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. O'Malley said a number of those
games actually outperformed the early telecasts.
"We didn't have any idea what impact the lockout
would have on the fans, so we weren't certain what would happen," O'Malley
said. "But the fans have responded well, especially to seeing some of the newer,
Along with surprisingly strong ratings, O'Malley said,
advertising-sales levels are on a par with last season despite losing 47 telecasts to the
lockout. "The advertising community has turned out to the point of complete normalcy
in the second quarter," he added.
The challenge for Turner now is to continue the ratings
momentum into the playoffs, which begin later this week (May 7).
Some industry observers believe that playoff ratings will
fall significantly, as the overhaul of the popular Chicago Bulls team and the retirement
of its star, Michael Jordan, becomes more magnified.
But O'Malley feels that Jordan's absence
won't have much effect on Turner's playoff ratings. He did say, however, that
first-round-playoff scheduling conflicts could result in more head-to-head games between
TNT and TBS, which could negatively affect ratings.
"The impact [of Jordan's departure] will be felt
more on NBC's [late-round playoff coverage] than ours," he added. "But
we'll have a lot of head-to-head games, which will make it tough to get the same
ratings as last year."