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

Sports tier will work out for NBA TV, Stern says

Bashing digital sports tiers is in vogue among programmers today, but the service has at least one fan in NBA Commissioner David Stern — even though his NBA TV has been languishing on cable’s digital sports tiers since its launch in 1999.

“I use the term idling,” Stern said, referring to NBA TV, which is in about 12 million homes. “The pedal is not to the metal because we’ve got more valuable and intensive things to do, like negotiate several billion dollars worth of network television contracts.”

While Stern wishes sports tiers had better distribution, he feels that NBA TV is well-positioned, regardless of whether cable’s digital sports tiers succeed or fail.

“Cable operators haven’t gotten around yet to promoting their sports tiers the way we think they will,” Stern said. “They will either promote their sports tiers or collapse them. In either event, NBA TV is going to be fine.”

The country’s second-biggest cable operator, Time Warner Cable, owns 2 percent of the network, a stake that could grow after the league’s next TV rights deal.

In the meantime, NBA TV will build its lineup with programming that ranges from games to original productions, such as Ahmad Rashad’s talk show called “Tuesday Night with Ahmad.” This season, it is planning to show more than 100 NBA games, up to 60 WNBA games, as well as NBA D-League and international games.

“We have the ability to fully program a basketball network at the present time without regard to going into the collegiate market,” Stern said.

NBA TV also has been ramping up its international business, under the leadership of Heidi Ueberroth, president of global marketing partnerships and international business operations.

The network increased its international reach this month by nearly 380,000 homes, thanks to deals with a satellite provider in Africa and a cable operator in Uruguay.

The deals put NBA TV in 66 countries. Last season, it was in 43 countries.

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