Three weeks into his first season heading NBA Digital, Albert “Scooter” Vertino likes what he sees across the league’s multiplatform properties.
Vertino, who in August was named NBA Digital general manager with oversight of NBA TV, NBA.com, WNBA.com, NBADLeague.com, NBA League Pass, as well as the league’s broadband and wireless businesses, says the varied storylines from the San Antonio Spurs winning the 2014 title in convincing fashion to moves made throughout the summer season are coalescing to fuel the business.
“We’re very excited about the first few weeks,” he said in an interview “From LeBron [James] returning to Cleveland, Derrick Rose and Kobe [Bryant] coming back from injuries and Steve Kerr moving from the [Turner] booth to leading the Golden State Warriors, there was plenty of off-season action. Now, the [Toronto] Raptors, [Sacramento] Kings and [Washington] Wizards are all doing well. There are plenty of stories around the league that are driving interest.”
That engagement is translating on various scorecards – with 11% being a key ratio for NBA TV.
The league’s in-house service averaged 368,000 total viewers through its first 11 telecasts, up 11% from the same stage of last season, according to Nielsen data. Moreover, the contests were also up 11% among persons 18 to 49 and men of the same age.
NBA TV’s “Fan Night” telecasts have thrived. The first two telecasts – a fan vote determines which game will air on the network that now counts some 60 million subscribers – averaged 659,000 watchers, a 129% jump from the first two contests in 2013.
The 836,000 watchers who tuned in the Cleveland Cavaliers-Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 3 represented the network’s second-most-viewed Fan Night telecast and third-most-viewed regular season game ever. That delivery has helped the network ring up respective gains of 188%, 201% and 227%, respectively, among persons 18 to 49, men 18 to 49 and guys 18 to 34.
In addition to Cleveland-Portland, Fan Night has also featured Golden State-San Antonio and on Nov. 18, Sacramento-New Orleans, as NBA aficianados have pointed West in the early going.
“We certainly don’t have an East Coast bias. It doesn’t matter to us. We’re only looking for exciting, close basketball,” said Vertino, who also oversees the programming and scheduling for all sports content for the division including the NBA on TNT, MLB on TBS, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and PGA Championship.
Game action aside, NBA TV is also scoring with its original programming. Since the start of the 2014-15 regular season, the network's 13 premiere episodes of The Starters were up 52% in viewership over last year, while weekly roundtable show The Beat grew 4% in total audience. However, the demo deliveries have leaped 35% among persons 18 to 49, 18% against men of that age and 40% with males 18 to 34.
The first four installments of this season’s Open Court opened well, advancing 77% among viewers, 89% with men 18 to 49 and 87% with the set Madison Avenue covets most over the same period last year. The reminisce and assessment show features Ernie Johnson leading discussions among the likes of Charles Barkely, Kenny Smith, Shaq O’Neal, Grant Hill, Rick Fox, Reggie Miller, Isiah Thomas and Steve Smith, among others.
“The idea was that if we got the guys in a casual environment and let the cameras roll, the conversation would flow and we would get some great stories and anecdotes,” explained Vertino. “‘I remember that game against Phoenix in 1994.' ‘That’s right, but I remember you did this against Washington four years later.’ It’s good, fun stuff.”
More is on the way: Vertino said four episodes will be shot in January, with the installments parsed over time, including one premiere near All-Star weekend.
Vertino, who succeeded Christina Miller, now the president and general manager of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, said his job is relatively simple.
“Christina did a great job for three-plus years. My job is not to screw things up,” he said with a laugh.
More seriously, under Vertino’s watch, NBA Digital is placing more of an emphasis on news and updates. “We’re not necessarily breaking news, but we need to react and provide a voice,” he said, noting the information from the likes of David Aldridge appear on the network, its app, NBA.com and social outlets.
As for NBA League Pass, net subscriptions to the pay-per-view package, which this year is sporting enhanced video quality and is available on more platforms than ever before, including the Xbox One, were up 21% through Nov. 16, capped by a 48% surge for its premium version.
For the NBA's opening week of Oct. 27 through Nov. 2, NBA.com page views and unique visitors were up 20% and 7%, respectively, compared to last season's tip.