It’s been a mixed spring for Turner Sports, as TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs saw a major uptick, but TBS’s Sunday-afternoon Major League Baseball package has struggled to gain ratings ground. Turner Sports president David Levy recently sat down with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead to talk baseball and hoops, and to look ahead to Turner’s forthcoming NASCAR coverage.
MCN: TNT saw major increases in its NBA Playoffs coverage this year compared to last season. To what do you attribute your ratings success?
David Levy: I think you had everything: You had the league’s biggest stars, you had an exciting, lengthy series — who would have thought that the Atlanta [Hawks]-Boston [Celtics first round series] would go seven games? I think you began to see that momentum building from the beginning [of the playoffs] with the games and matchups and you could see it in the ratings: We’re up 14% overall year over year and we’re up 25% conference finals over conference finals.
MCN: Do you think the league can carry that ratings momentum into the NBA Finals?
DL: I can tell you this … I’ll be watching. I hear a lot of people making that same statement that might not have said it in past years. You have one of the league’s best rivalries in the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, so I think the league is in a great position.
MCN: Did fans also gravitate to Turner’s digital offerings for the NBA playoffs?
DL: We had over 3 million live streams during the Western Conference Finals, so we know that type of excitement and production with the ability to push and pull from the television to the Web is going to be the future.
MCN: Switching subjects to baseball, how is TBS’s Sunday-afternoon baseball package performing a couple of months into the season?
DL: I have to be honest; from a production basis it’s tremendous. From a ratings perspective, we’re doing a similar number to ESPN’s non-exclusive Wednesday night package where they have the blackout in the local markets (a 0.5 household rating for TNT’s Sunday-afternoon games compared to ESPN’s 0.7 for its Wednesday-night baseball telecasts), so from a ratings perspective, I’d like to see it grow a little bit. Most people don’t know we have that Sunday-afternoon package, but as we get closer to the playoffs, I’m sure we’ll see our ratings grow.
MCN: TNT also begins its summer NASCAR television package Sunday (June 8). With NASCAR’s ratings slightly down last year compared to the year prior, are you confident about the ratings prospects for this season?
DL: Yes there was a little [ratings] dip last year, but I think the excitement of NASCAR is back this year. My understanding is that Fox Broadcasting’s numbers are up year to year, so I believe the ratings growth will continue.