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Volume 26 No. 65
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LeBron's Move Manifested In Drops For TNT, ESPN To Begin NBA Season

TNT's most-viewed game of the season thus far was one featuring James and the Lakers on Oct. 18
Photo: nbae/getty images

NBA viewership is down 26% on TNT and 6% on ESPN one month into the season. Much of the sharp decline can be attributed to LeBron James’ move to the Western Conference, which has hit viewership for the early-window primetime NBA telecasts particularly hard so far. TNT is averaging 1.79 million viewers after 12 game telecasts, the net’s slowest start to a season in at least a decade. TNT was hit right out of the gate on opening night, as the 76ers-Celtics and Thunder-Warriors doubleheader averaged 2.82 million viewers. That was down 42% from last year, when the doubleheader featured Celtics-Cavaliers (highlighted by Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland) and Rockets-Warriors. TNT’s top game this season to date easily was its first featuring James and the Lakers, as the matchup with the Trail Blazers on Oct. 18 averaged 3.31 million viewers.

CALIFORNIA KING: For TNT’s early windows this season to date, the net is averaging 1.61 million viewers compared to 2.75 million viewers at the same point last season (zero James games this year vs. two in ’17). But the late windows, which feature more prominent Western Conference teams, are seeing a less-pronounced drop, with two Lakers games to date. Meanwhile, ESPN is down 6% overall after 18 telecasts, averaging 1.69 million viewers compared to 1.79 million. But the net is up compared to the same time frame two years ago (1.61 million viewers for 14 games). James and the Lakers also have the top ESPN game this season, with 2.7 million viewers for the Nov. 8 matchup against the Celtics. Similar to TNT, ESPN’s early window is seeing a drop (-16%), as there were three Cavaliers/James games at this point last year compared to zero Lakers/James games in the early window so far this season. Both TNT and ESPN will look to close the gap as the season progresses, with stronger matchups in the back half, as well as the ability to flex in some better games.

CITY EDITIONS: While national viewership has started slower than last season, several local markets are seeing impressive gains to date. The addition of James in the offseason has helped Spectrum SportsNet to a 39% gain. The Nuggets have also impressed in the standings early on, and ratings in Denver on Altitude are up 160%. Rookie Mavericks G Luka Doncic has drawn the interest of viewers in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, with game ratings up 86% despite sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Coming off an impressive playoff run, Jazz game ratings in Salt Lake City are up 59% on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain. The Rockets also continue to draw despite a slow start, with ratings on AT&T SportsNet Southwest up 80% in Houston to date.