SBD/Issue 172/Sports Media

TNT, ESPN Both Seeing Double-Digit Aud Increases For NBA Playoffs

Nuggets-Lakers Series Helping ESPN Record
Viewership Gains For Playoffs
TNT is averaging 4.310 million viewers through 40 NBA Playoffs telecasts through Sunday, up 18.7% from 3.631 million viewers for 39 telecasts at the same point in '08. Meanwhile, ESPN's 16 postseason telecasts have averaged 4.049 million viewers, up 10.1% from 3.679 million viewers for 18 telecasts at the same point last year. ESPN's 5.7 cable rating and 7.886 million viewers for Thursday's Nuggets-Lakers Western Conference Final Game Two also marked the net's second-most viewed basketball game ever. For the week of May 18-24, the five NBA Playoffs telecasts between TNT and ESPN marked the five most-viewed telecasts on all of cable (THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand noted the ratings are "partly supporting the notion that superstars such as [Lakers G] Kobe Bryant and [Cavaliers F] LeBron James can deliver casual fans." ESPN/ABC and TNT "could get an unusually big pop" in ratings if Nuggets-Lakers and the Magic-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals "go the distance -- despite the Lakers being the only one of the four remaining teams from a top-10 U.S. TV market" (USA TODAY, 5/26). In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote there are "some scholars -- maybe even [NBA Commissioner] David Stern -- who might suggest an NBA Finals matchup featuring LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, in terms of healthy TV ratings, will be bulletproof." Raissman: "Don't be so sure. It's become hard predicting how many eyeballs the NBA product can consistently bring to the tube" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/24).

HOOP DREAMS: In DC, Tim Lemke writes the NBA Playoffs thus far "have provided the league and its broadcasters with precisely what they root for: long series filled with tense, competitive games." The ratings "appear to validate Turner, which signed an eight-year extension of its broadcast deal in 2007 that included a takeover of the league's cable and digital operations." Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy: "When I travel around the country people are talking about the NBA and these games. ... The games have been terrific. If you're a sports fan, you're tuning in." ESPN Senior Dir of Programming & Acquisitions Doug White added, "What you've been seeing with these playoffs is really the best form of reality television. It's unscripted, you don't know what you're going to get from night to night, and it has all of the drama and suspense you could ever hope for" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/27).

IN THE BOOTH: Syndicated columnist Norm Chad wrote ESPN/ABC announcers Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy are "as enjoyable of a three-man booth as I have heard in a long, long time," as they "combine sensible play-by-play with smart conversation and minimal shtick." Breen understands that a good game is a "crescendo and reserves his most emotive calls for the biggest moments." Jackson speaks in "no-nonsense language, with a clipped, succinct rhythm," and Van Gundy is "frank, refreshing and unassuming, with a sneaky sense of humor" (Mult., 5/25). But in Denver, Dusty Saunders wrote, "My major question regarding the ESPN-ABC telecasts of the NBA playoffs: Why is Mike Breen part of the broadcast coverage?" Three announcers is "one too many, particularly when telecasts feature outspoken broadcasters like Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, who mix play-by-play with ongoing, strong commentary." Breen "too often gets caught in a verbal no-man's land." Meanwhile, TNT announcers Marv Albert and Doug Collins are a "smooth, veteran twosome who are in sync most of the time" (DENVER POST, 5/25). ESPN.com's Bill Simmons wrote the "difference in quality" for TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley before and after his December DUI arrest "has been jarring." Simmons: "In a good way. He even looks lively during TNT's integrated commercial spots when he's trying to seem excited about 'X-Men'" (ESPN.com, 5/22).

Columnists Write '09 Playoffs
The Best In Recent Years
TRULY AMAZING: In Phoenix, Bob Young wrote the NBA is "going to have to come up with a replacement" for its "Where Amazing Happens" and "Where Will Amazing Happen This Year" campaigns. The NBA Playoffs "blew right through 'Amazing'" during the Celtics-Bulls Eastern Conference first-round series. The postseason "somewhere along the way ... became 'Where Ridiculous Happens,'" as evidenced by James' "game-winning buzzer-beater of a fadeaway 3-point shot" during Magic-Cavaliers Game Two. It then "morphed into 'Where Astounding Happens' when Kobe Bryant hit his own 3-point clutch shot that ultimately led to a Lakers victory" in Nuggets-Lakers Game Three. Young: "We would argue that these playoffs already are headed toward being the best we've seen since 1994" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/25). SI's Lee Jenkins writes, "Call the first week of the conference finals May Madness. ... The NBA's final four is matching the college version thrill for thrill, heartbreak for heartbreak." The first five conference finals games "all featured severe momentum swings, impromptu tactical adjustments and heart-in-throat finishes" (SI, 6/1 issue). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote the "Where Amazing Happens" slogan "actually turns out to be almost underselling the product we've seen so far." The Playoffs "couldn't be better for hoop junkies everywhere." Every game is a "thriller," and "every outcome can't be decided until the last tick of the clock" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/24). In Charlotte, Langston Wertz Jr. writes the NBA "hasn't been this good since Chris Webber's Sacramento Kings were pushing the Lakers to an exhilarating seven-game Western Conference finals during 2002" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/27).

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