NBA Cable TV Ratings Proves Point

Games 4 and 5 of both NBA Conference Championship series exceeded 9 million viewers and would have ranked in the Top 10 for the week on broadcast. Game Six for each series, played on the two weakest nights for television ratings – Friday and Saturday – posted solid viewership over 8 million, better than the comparables on broadcast for those nights

It’s a tribute to the NBA, it’s marketing clout, and the star power it rolled out for these two series. The ratings are the latest indicator that line between broadcast and major cable networks is blurry, if non-existent. Sports cable ratings continue to climb, while overall primetime broadcast numbers decline, and sports broadcast ratings continue to drift. The argument that big events must be on broadcast is over. We can still argue Versus against broadcast, at least until they improve channel location and distribution, but the major cable networks are essentially on par with broadcast networks.

That said the NHL announcing a contract extension with NBC is questionable. The Peacock treats hockey like a step-child, shifting the schedule around for horse racing and late night television, skimping on marketing, and not adding any substantial revenue. Take the show to all cable. Add a second network to complement Versus, be it ESPN or a Turner network. The NBC deal is not hard to match. Both cable enterprises bring more much-needed creative, aggressive marketing to the table, and much stronger digital presences than NBC Sports, which would complement the NHL’s progress with digital.

MLB followed the NBA and NHL by putting its LCS on cable last season – and successfully with strong ratings for the Boston-Tampa Bay series. It’s doubtful the NFL will follow suit anytime soon, but football is a different animal. However, suddenly its not impossible to envision a World Series or NBA Finals on cable in the next decade. The networks prove they can bring the ratings, the leagues should listen when they bring more money to the table than the broadcast partners.

More so than ever its about the product and effective marketing, distribution is no longer a differentiator holding back cable.

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