SBJ/December 25 - 31, 2006/This Weeks News

Digital issues slow NBA’s TV talks

Negotiations on the NBA’s next television rights package are moving forward at a glacial pace, but the talks have remained cordial and all sides believe that ESPN and TNT will wind up renewing their deals at some point over the next year.

Longtime NBA broadcaster TNT is expected
to renew, but it won’t happen right away.

“The most optimistic schedule would be by the end of the season,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said. “I could even envision it going into next season.”

The NBA’s current TV deal is up at the end of the 2007-08 season. For the past several months, the NBA has been negotiating with its current partners, ESPN and TNT, about renewing for another six years. The NBA is looking to leverage its success from last year’s postseason for a significant increase from the current deal.

One of the biggest holdups so far has been in trying to figure out what to do with digital rights, including broadband, wireless and video-on-demand applications.

“If I’m extending the TNT brand into new platforms, I expect the NBA to follow with it because it’s one of our properties attached to one of our brands,” said Turner Sports President David Levy.

Similarly, ESPN’s George Bodenheimer says digital rights are one of the most important components of the new deal.

“I look forward to talking with David about acquiring a very broad swath of rights in our next deal,” Bodenheimer said. “They understand that we need product to fuel our businesses. I compliment them for their willingness and forward thinking there.”

Broadband rights are divided among the league and its partners, and the NBA has showed a willingness to open existing deals to account for new technology. That’s what happened with broadband channel TNT Overtime, which the network produces on NBA.com.

“We needed to have NBA approval to get that done within the existing contract, while we already had a deal done,” Levy said. “The NBA understands what’s needed.”

While the networks are looking to get more flexibility with digital rights, the NBA is trying to expand its programming beyond ABC, ESPN and TNT. It is looking to place programming on other Disney- and Turner-owned channels. And it wants to be a part of the companies’ international plans.

“We are smarter about looking for ways we can help each other’s businesses, which will result in consideration of other assets that each of our large incumbent partners have,” Stern said.

Turner Sports has carried the NBA for the past 23 years. ABC/ESPN picked up the league’s rights in 2002.

Staff writer John Lombardo contributed to this story.

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