How Networks Are Filling Airtime Without The NBA

It's looking more and more likely that the NBA won't have a season this year. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports the TV networks have been playing extra episodes of CSI: NY and extended editions of Sports Center for now.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

With the current NBA lockout, TV networks like ESPN and TNT have had to figure out how to fill the holes left by cancelled games.

And they may lose advertising revenue, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: ESPN was ready. They say they put a contingency plan in place over a year ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But Texas A&M has so many points is their ability to run the football.

BLAIR: College football and basketball, that's pretty much what you'll see instead, and sometimes ESPN is just making Sport Center longer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: More top 10, the greatest moments of coach K's record career.

BLAIR: Over at TNT, they're just sticking to their regular schedule.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "CSI NEW YORK")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) You really think that I was about to just roll over and...

BLAIR: That means on Thursday nights it'll be "CSI New York" over and over again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "CSI NEW YORK")

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Welcome to the end of the world as we know it.

BLAIR: For that murdered girl maybe, but for TNT it is not the end of the world. Yes, they may have lost some advertising revenue, but they also saved some money. That's what John Martin, the CFO of parent company Time-Warner, told investors in a conference call on November 2nd.

JOHN MARTIN: Now, for planning purposes we're assuming here that there will be no NBA games in the fourth quarter.

BLAIR: Did you hear that? They weren't even planning on having any games. And he said lost ad revenue would be offset by the money they save not having to pay the NBA for broadcast rights.

MARTIN: So the impact to adjusted operating income from the lost games in the fourth quarter should be relatively immaterial.

BLAIR: Relatively immaterial - for now, because early in the NBA season not as many people are watching; the real money kicks in later.

Dan Hirschhorn, who writes for Advertising Age, says more than half of ad dollars are actually spent in the playoffs.

DAN HIRSCHHORN: And more than two-thirds or so are spent after the All-Star break in February.

BLAIR: So, Hirschhorn says the TV networks could lose heavily if the whole NBA season is cancelled. Plus, there are other networks like Comedy Central and Spike TV that cater to a young male audience. Hirschhorn says a network like TNT needs to watch out for poachers.

HIRSCHHORN: Networks who deliver a similar young male demographic are starting to go to these advertisers and say, listen, there's not going to be a season - advertise with us instead. We can deliver for you better.

BLAIR: In other words, keep your eye on the ball.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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