NBA ratings are more than just television


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NEW YORK -- On its face, the NBA's lucrative rights deal with ESPN, ABC and TNT wouldn't necessarily make a lot of sense. The NBA's ratings on TV have been challenged in recent years, and in the past five years of the current rights deal, basketball has taken a hit in the ratings.

This year's NBA Finals featured a ho-hum matchup that was over in four low-rated games. Regular-season viewership on broadcast networks has dropped from 3.8 million in 2002 to 2.9 million this year, Nielsen Media Research said. Conference final ratings and All-Star Game ratings also have dropped in their move from broadcast to a combination of broadcast and cable. But TNT's ratings are up 17% in households over the life of the current contract.

But the NBA -- and ESPN/ABC and TNT -- are betting that in this new-media landscape, it's getting to be about more than just the TV ratings, and things will only grow more so as time goes on. NBA commissioner David Stern said Wednesday that Games 3 and 4 of this year's Finals were "a little bit low" but noted that there are other digital markers to signal viewing.

"There's currently no place to put (into account) the 30 million streams of NBA highlights, and that's just on," Stern said. "That doesn't include ESPN 360, TNT Overtime or We are seeing a spreading of our engagement across a broader view."

ESPN executive vp content John Skipper said that there were 32 million video streams a month on related to the NBA, with CPMs that are comparable with linear TV.

The NBA is just beginning to assemble these new metrics.

"We get these extraordinary counts that in the month of April, 30 million fans streamed NBA highlights; that on, some additional millions of fans were tuning in," Stern said. "In Airplay and Amp'd, in a wireless way, fans are engaged with us. We have fans on video games ... and it will be growing online ... and on their hand-held wireless devices, and I haven't exhausted the list."

Turner Sports president David Levy said that all of these digital platforms will have a significant impact on the sports media landscape.

Not that anyone is predicting immediate gloom and doom for linear TV.

"There is ratings growth still in the NBA, while at the same time there will be robust growth in the digital assets, and eventually there will be an erosion," Stern said.

Added ESPN's Skipper, "We do believe there is upside."