Cable Puts Up Big Numbers With Hoops, Hockey Playoffs

The 2010 NBA Playoffs got off to a strong start on TNT, as the network’s Sunday tripleheader averaged 3.34 million viewers, a 15 percent improvement from last year’s postseason opener.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, TNT drew 3.12 million viewers with its coverage of the early (5:39 p.m.-8:18 p.m.) Bobcats-Magic bout. In prime time, the Spurs-Mavs contest delivered 3.93 million viewers, while the late game (Blazers-Suns) averaged 2.99 million viewers between 10:53 p.m. and 1:35 a.m.

ESPN’s Eastern Conference Playoffs slate also put up some big numbers, as the sports net averaged 2.97 million viewers with its own three-game set. On Saturday evening (5:30 p.m.-8:05 p.m.), the Bucks and Hawks drew 2.16 million viewers. The late-night Jazz-Nuggets meeting delivered 2.92 million viewers between 11:01 p.m. and 1:20 a.m., retaining 69 percent of its prime time Heat-Celtics lead-in (3.82 million).

While ESPN’s demo deliveries lagged behind TNT’s––the Turner net’s tripleheader averaged 1.89 million viewers 18-49 to Bristol’s 1.73 million––the results were a lot tighter when the lopsided Bucks-Hawks game is discounted. (In a game that was never in doubt, Atlanta jumped out to 1 15-6 lead five minutes in, and was up 62-40 at the half. At the final buzzer, the Hawks had secured a 102-92 victory.)

TNT’s Mavs-Spurs coverage averaged 2.15 million viewers 18-49, while ESPN notched 2.14 million members of the TV demo with its Heat-Celtics opener. The Bobcats-Magic tilt drew 1.83 million 18-49s to TNT, while Bristol averaged 1.78 million with its Jazz-Nuggets telecast. All told, the two top TNT contests averaged 1.99 million 18-49s to ESPN’s 1.96 million.

Meanwhile, in other playoff news, Versus scored with the first five games of its NHL postseason coverage, as the Comcast-owned net averaged 543,000 total viewers, up 22 percent from last year (447,000).

Versus’ deliveries were the highest for a cable network since the first five games of the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Moreover, the net is seeing improvement among the key male demos, including men 25-54 (up 18 percent), men 18-49 (up 8 percent) and men 18-34 (up 6 percent).   
Thus far, Versus’ biggest draw has been Game 2 of the Canadiens-Capitals series, which drew 731,000 viewers Saturday night. The game surpassed the previous high set by Game 7 of a Flyers-Caps set that drew 682,000 viewers on April 22, 2008.