The first round of the NBA playoffs has turned into a Nielsen slam-dunkathon for ESPN and ABC, driving up the ratings of each net by double digits compared with first-round games last year.
TNT, the other national cable outlet for the NBA postseason, was down in households by a marginal 1% in the first round, although the network’s coverage of the sixth game of the Lakers-Suns series amassed 3.7 million households, making it the most watched first-round NBA playoff game in cable history.
For ESPN, which carried nine first-round games (the same as last year), the average of 2.1 million households reps a 10% jump over the 1.9 million chalked up the previous year.
ABC covered only four first-round games (compared with three last year), but those four propelled the net to a gaudy 18% spike in households (3.529 million vs. 2.982 million).
Although TNT didn’t generate the household gains of its competitors, Turner Sports prexy David Levy said dipping only 1% is “a positive in this day and age, when there are so many other media platforms in competition for viewers.” In the men 18-34 demo, TNT is up 10%.
Levy attributes the playoff buzz to the stellar play of LeBron James of the Cavaliers, the tightly played seven-game series between the Lakers and the Suns, and the success of powerhouse teams like the Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.
For the second and third rounds of the playoffs, TNT could get a boost through exclusivity for the games it carries, which means local TV stations and regional cable nets will not be able to run them simultaneously. ESPN doesn’t have such exclusivity.