TNT: NBA Revival in Stars

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Turner Network Television hopes the Feb. 20 National Basketball Association All-Star game telecast will provide a needed lift to pro hoops’ regular-season ratings after the break.

Going into the All-Star game, the network’s exclusive Thursday-night doubleheader package is tracking behind last year’s performance. Through 32 games, TNT has averaged a 1.3 household rating, down from a 1.4 rating for 30 games last year, network officials said.

ELECTION COMPETITION

Turner Sports president David Levy said much of the ratings drop stemmed from a decline in the Nov. 2 opening-day ratings to a 1.4 from last year’s 2.7 mark, amid coverage of that day’s presidential election.

“Overall, I’m pretty happy with the numbers,” Levy said. “We had double-digit growth the last two years prior to this, so even though we’re slightly down, we’re in good position.”

ESPN’s NBA ratings have also slid. They’re down 13%, from a 1.5 average for 38 games to a 1.3 for 34 at this point in the season a year ago, with household delivery off 7% to a just under 1.2 million.

A network spokeswoman pointed to several factors for the falloff: ESPN aired LeBron James’s pro debut last season (a 2.8 rating); it aired the first match-up between James’s Cleveland Cavaliers and the other heralded rookie, Carmelo Anthony, and the Denver Nuggets (2.3); the Los Angeles Lakers, the league’s erstwhile top draw, changed personnel; and James and Lakers star Kobe Bryant were absent from recent telecasts.

Levy hopes the All-Star game will provide TNT with a ratings spark for the second half of the season and into the playoffs.

Last year, the All-Star game averaged a stellar 6.2 rating, but fell way short of the 2003’s telecast’s 8.2 mark for Michael Jordan’s final All-Star performance.

To bolster ratings, Levy said TNT has scheduled several marquee match-ups, including a Sacramento Kings-Dallas Mavericks contest and a Miami Heat-Houston Rockets game.

TNT will take its pregame studio show on the road to Miami on March 17 for live coverage of the Heat-Lakers game, the second contest between former teammates Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

ESPN OPTIMISTIC

ESPN also remains optimistic about a second-half rebound. The network feels the best part of the schedule lies ahead, and ESPN will air the popular Western Conference finals this year.

As for the All-Star game, TNT will deploy 35 HDTV cameras, including a cable-cam to deliver a full-court aerial view; a helicopter-based HD camera to pan the host city of Denver; and a “Magic Cam” that will allow TNT to pull frames of live game action to project on various downtown Denver landmarks.

“There’s a lot of excitement going into the game, and we’ll be fine with the ratings,” Levy said.

Mike Reynolds contributed to this story.

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