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Volume 26 No. 134
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LeBron's Move Proves Key Factor In Lower NBA Viewership In '18-19

The NBA saw its regular season viewership decline during the ’18-19 season, with LeBron James’ move out West, his subsequent injury and some decline in interest around the Warriors among the reasons for the drop. But game telecasts across ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in ’18-19 (1.2 million average viewers) were only down 5% from last season (1.28 million), which was the best audience since the ’13-14 season (1.29 million). NBA games this season were still up 3% from two seasons ago. Individually, each network saw a drop for ’18-19.

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NBA Viewership

MOUSE HOUSE: ABC averaged 3.58 million viewers for its package of games this season, down 6% from 3.81 million, but up from 3.27 million two seasons ago. The year-over-year decline comes despite an uptick for the NBA Saturday Primetime package. Those games averaged 3.41 million viewers, up from 3.38 million last season. Only the inaugural season for the Saturday package in ’15-16 was better (3.47 million viewers). The decline for ABC also comes despite a strong Christmas slate, as ABC and ESPN combined for the best Christmas viewership in seven years. ESPN on its own this season averaged 1.59 million viewers, down 2% from ’17-18, but up from two seasons ago. The decline came despite ESPN having its most-viewed opening week in four years (fueled by James' debut with the Lakers). While down individually, ABC and ESPN combined for the ’18-19 season averaged 1.99 million viewers, virtually flat with ’17-18 and up 5% from two seasons ago.

TURNER TIME: TNT averaged 1.49 million viewers this season, which is its lowest mark since ’07-08 (1.47 million). The network was hamstrung from the very start of the season, as opening night did not feature LeBron James for the first time since ’14. Those opening night games, typically among the most-watched games of the season, saw a 42% year-over-year drop for TNT. The network also did not have a Christmas Day game this season. Meanwhile, NBA TV averaged 281,000 viewers for its games, the network’s lowest mark since ’10-11 and first time under 300,000 viewers since ’14-15. NBA TV had only two games over 600,000 viewers this season -- two early-season Lakers games -- whereas there were five such games at that level in ’17-18.

LEBRON FACTOR: James’ move to the Western Conference for the first time in his career was a big hit to the early primetime windows for both ESPN and TNT doubleheader windows. Without the draw of James, those early windows on TNT were down 23% from last season as teams like the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks could not pick up the slack. TNT also had several Lakers games slated down the stretch, and James’ absence from three of those, combined with the Lakers’ playoff elimination, hurt numbers. James missed five TNT games in total, including the MLK Day game against the Warriors. Meanwhile, ESPN was down 11% for those early windows in doubleheaders.

WARRIOR MENTALITY: While the Warriors are still a big draw for NBA telecasts, there was less interest this season than in prior campaigns. On TNT, the Warriors had 12 games, averaging 1.9 million viewers, which was down 25% from last season (also 12 games) and down 28% from two seasons ago (10 games). On ESPN, the 13 Warriors games (2.04 million viewers) were actually up 1% from a season ago, but down 6% from two seasons ago.

FAST BREAK: There were several highlights for the NBA outside of linear TV during the ’18-19 season. NBA League Pass subscriptions set another all-time high and were up 21% from last season’s record. That gain comes as League Pass offered new options on game pricing this season, including packages like the last quarter of a game. There were also a record level of digital League Pass subscriptions (+5% from ’17-18). Meanwhile, Bleacher Report’s NBA social media platforms generated more than 600 million engagements this season, up 39%. The B/R House of Highlights Instagram feed drew nearly 500 million engagements on its own, up 14%.