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NBA Regular-Season Viewership Down 6% During First Year Of New Media Rights Deal

NBA Regular-Season Viewership Down 6% During First Year Of New Media Rights Deal

By Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor

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NBA television viewership was down across the board during the ’16-17 regular season, with the average audience across TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV (1.19 million viewers) down 6% during the first season of the league’s nine-year, $24B rights extension with ESPN and Turner Sports. Each network saw declines in audience this season, one season after each network saw gains. There were several factors contributing to the decline, including 19 more games across TNT, ABC and ESPN compared to ’15-16. The early part of the NBA season, much like the NFL, had to compete with coverage leading up to the presidential election, followed by increased figures for cable news following the election. While down from last season, viewership levels for the NBA were relatively flat compared to two season ago. Fans this season also watched 820 million hours of NBA games, up from 805.8 million last year and up from 726.4 million two seasons ago. The average minutes watched this season also was up 2% from ’15-16. The NBA also set all-time records on social media this season.

VIEWERSHIP TREND FOR NBA REGULAR-SEASON GAMES
SEASON
ABC (000)
TNT (000)
ESPN (000)
NBA TV (000)
'16-17
3,263
1,540
1,565
312
'15-16
3,926
1,682
1,652
345
'14-15
3,588
1,669
1,504
291
'13-14
3,584
1,900
1,678
316
'12-13
4,701
2,002
1,768
336


EXTRA! EXTRA! TNT had 11 more games this season as part of its portion of the new NBA deal, and those extra games, primarily via the creation of a new window on Monday nights, led to TNT’s lowest regular-season average since ’07-08. The net averaged 1.54 million viewers this season, down 8% from last season. Removing those extra 11 games would have put TNT at relatively the same level as last season in terms of viewership. However, the Monday night windows proved beneficial to Turner, as the company saw a 13% increase in viewership compared to the mix of entertainment programming it had in that primetime window last season. TNT also saw audience gains for many of its tentpole events. The All-Star Game had its best audience since ’13, while NBA All-Star Saturday also saw a slight gain. TNT also saw gains for opening night and MLK Day. Meanwhile, NBA TV, operated by Turner Sports, averaged 312,000 total viewers for its regular-season games, down 10% compared to last year’s record-setting season, but up 7% over ‘14-15. The net’s “Fan Night” games on Tuesdays averaged 448,000 viewers, up 8% compared to last year.

MISSING IN ACTION: ABC averaged 3.26 million viewers for its NBA games this season, also marking the net’s lowest figure since ’07-08 (3.18 million). Several of the ABC games were notable this season with big-name players sitting out those nationally-televised contests. The drop for ABC came despite the net drawing its fifth-best regular-season audience on record with Warriors-Cavaliers on Christmas Day. However, the Christmas Day games also had rare competition from an NFL game. Meanwhile, ESPN averaged 1.57 million viewers for its games this season, down 5% from last season. But that figure is up from 1.5 million viewers two seasons ago. ESPN’s early portion of the schedule went up against the Cubs' run to the World Series title.

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