Turner Sports is hoping for a National Basketball Association ratings resurgence during the league playoffs as regular-season ratings continue to fall.
With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation telecasts are averaging a 1.3 rating, 24 percent below last year's numbers.
Ratings are down despite the league's return to a full-season schedule after last year's lockout wiped out a portion of the season.
Turner Sports senior vice president of programming Kevin O'Malley couldn't pinpoint one reason for the ratings decline. But he pointed out that the league is in the middle of a transition phase, with the first full-season loss of Michael Jordan and his dominant Chicago Bulls team.
He also said the public is just beginning to catch on to the new stars and teams-such as Vince Carter and his Toronto Raptors-which could help to propel the NBA's appeal in the future.
"We had such good ratings after the work stoppage last year that with a return to a full schedule, this would be a normal year, but [ratings] have fallen off," O'Malley said.
With the significant drop in ratings, he added, the company has already begun to talk with advertisers about the potential of make-goods for the low-rated regular-season games.
But with potentially higher-rated playoff games involved in the company's overall advertising package, it's possible that financial or extra spot-inventory compensation won't be necessary.
Turner is certainly betting that NBA ratings will increase with the playoff games, which begin later this month.
O'Malley believes the company will improve on last year's respectable 3.0 rating for playoff telecasts. That number was compromised somewhat with several head-to-head games on TNT and TBS due to the lockout scheduling, as well as several short playoff series.
But with several big-market teams-particularly the dominant Los Angeles Lakers-expected to make playoff appearances, O'Malley is confident that viewers will tune in to NBA telecasts. "We certainly expect to be at [last year's] level or higher," he said.
While Turner is not significantly increasing its playoff promotions from last year, it will offer more cross-channel spots and increase radio buys for its games.
Western Initiative Media Worldwide media buyer Bill Croasdale said he believes NBA ratings will climb somewhat with the playoffs as the number of exposures diminishes through the playoff rounds.
"They should increase somewhat because there will be less of it out there," he said. "With national cable, national broadcast and all of the regional networks, the audience is dispersed, which contributed to the decrease in regular-season ratings."