NBA Commissioner David Stern has delivered on a preseason prediction that his NBA TV channel would have cable carriage in time for the 2003-04 season. Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Cablevision Systems have signed on to carry the digital network beginning in October, just in time for the league's Oct. 28 tip-off.
NBA TV is already available on EchoStar Communications' Dish Network and DirecTV, accounting for about 3 million subscribers. But it is difficult to pin down how many subs the new MSO partners will contribute. Time Warner, Cablevision and Cox have the option to carry NBA TV on digital basic or a sports tier.
"Operators have particular needs," said Ed Desser, president of NBA New Media. "The deals provide operators with a certain amount of flexibility by tailoring the offering by system and market."
Cablevision plans to offer the channel on its top-shelf iO Gold digital package. Time Warner will carry NBA TV on its digital sports tier, which will be available on nearly all systems by year-end.
Time Warner Executive Vice President of Programming Fred Dressler expects NBA TV to help drive the sports package: "It is the most high-profile product we have."
Two of the first operators to sign on were obvious choices. NBA TV is league-owned, and team owners—which include a few cable operators—have a vested interest in its success. Cablevision owns the NBA's New York Knicks. Time Warner recently unloaded its NBA team, the Atlanta Hawks, but still holds a 20% stake in NBA TV. Charter Communications backer Paul Allen owns the Portland Trailblazers, although NBA TV still has to get carriage on Charter.
In addition, the net is partnering with In Demand to transmit its HD and standard-definition programming to cable operators and for In Demand to offer some NBA TV programming on its upcoming high-definition channels.
Along with its new carriage, NBA TV is adding fresh programming for fall.