SBJ/20100222/This Week's News

Not a slam, but Turner wants more from dunk contest

Turner’s David Levy is planning to meet with NBA officials to talk about potential changes to All-Star Saturday’s dunk contest, which has faced media and viewer complaints in recent years for lacking star power and excitement.

Despite that criticism, the showcase in Dallas held earlier this month scored a 3.1 U.S. rating and almost 5.5 million viewers for TNT, making it the second-most-watched night in the event’s history.

Any changes to the event ultimately will have to be made by the NBA, but TNT has carried the event for 25 years, and Levy’s opinion is certain to carry weight in league circles.

While Levy would not be upset to have LeBron James compete against Kobe Bryant in future dunk contests, he does not believe that the event necessarily needs that kind of star power to thrive. Levy, Turner Broadcasting’s president of sales, distribution and sports, is more interested in having the players who agree to participate put more effort into it. In some cases this year, it appeared that dunkers were trying to make up dunks on the fly.

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“I think it had to do with preparedness. We’ll talk about that,” he said. “I want to figure out how we can change or grow the event and keep it relevant.”

Levy was unconcerned with the 15 percent ratings drop for the Sunday All-Star Game, pointing to competition from the Winter Olympics and the fact Los Angeles Lakers star Bryant pulled out of the game. He noted that ratings fell 40 percent in Los Angeles, the country’s second-biggest TV market. Still, the All-Star Game ratings beat the Olympics in the 18-34 demo, according to Turner data.

“That’s the demo we sell a lot of our NBA product on,” Levy said. “I wasn’t so surprised by the numbers. But we won’t have the Olympics next year, and [the All-Star Game] will be in the L.A. market. I think our comparisons will be good next year.”

Levy also pointed to two consecutive years of the NBA’s double-digit ratings growth on TNT and predicted another double-digit jump this year. Through Feb. 2, TNT’s 29 NBA games had posted a 1.2 U.S. rating (up 9 percent from last year’s 1.1) and 1.77 million viewers (up more than 7 percent from last year’s 1.65 million). Levy said much of TNT’s schedule is back-loaded, and past history suggests that ratings should increase further by the end of the season.

“We’re seeing lots of positive momentum on the NBA,” Levy said.

Levy also pointed to digital growth  from All-Star Weekend. Turner logged 17 million video streams around the three-day festivity (a 20 percent growth from last year) and 1.5 million text-message votes during the slam dunk competition and game MVP voting.

“We’re figuring out how to use multiple platforms,” he said. “We were where you want it and when you want it over the weekend. We enhanced the TV product.”

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