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NBA cable carriers netting double-digit audience gains at All-Star break

The NBA's national cable network partners scored double-digit audience advances ahead of the pro-hoop league's All-Star Game break.

Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s TNT (US), which will tip off a new virtual reality platform with Intel Corp. during the Feb. 16-18 All-Star Weekend festivities, has averaged 1.9 million viewers over 44 telecasts, according to data from Nielsen Holdings.

Buoyed by 5.6 million viewers for the Oct. 17, 2017, season-opener between Cleveland-Boston, the second-most-watched starter of all time, TNT scored a 20% gain from the corresponding point of the 2016-17 campaign.

TNT also has dunked double-digit gains among key demos this season: 20% among persons 18 to 34, 23% with persons 18 to 49, 26% against persons 25 to 54, 18% among men 18 to 34, 24% with men 18 to 49 and 31% against men 25 to 54.

For its part, NBA TV (US) is enjoying its best-ever season, relative to game viewership. Through 69 telecasts, NBA TV was up 20% to an average audience of 354,000, with the league-owned service netting respective gains of 21%, 27% and 26% among persons 18 to 34, people 18 to 49 and adults 25 to 54. Among men of corresponding ages, NBA has racked respective demo advances of 17%, 27% and 27%.

On the Walt Disney Co. side of the court, ESPN (US) has registered a 10% average audience gain to 1.74 million viewers over 58 telecasts through Feb. 11. The sports network has also driven a 13% rise among adults 18 to 49 (921,000) and 16% amelioration among men of that age (697,000).

Over the first 10 games on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, including 4.64 million viewers for Cleveland-Boston on Feb. 11 — the most for an NBA Sunday Showcase since Feb. 10, 2013 — the average audience on ABC (US) has edged up 1% to 4.46 million. Demo-wise, ABC has picked up the pace against men 18 to 49 (5% to 1.28 million) and 25 to 54 (8% to 1.26 million).

Although NBA viewership has slowed since the league headed into its Christmas showcase, the audience gains are noteworthy, considering that sports viewership has been falling along with most linear TV viewing. The NFL sustained its second straight year of regular-season game declines — 9.7% in 2017 to 14.9 million viewers on top of an 8% drop to in 2016 — albeit at much higher audience levels than the NBA.

ESPN will tip off the All-Star weekend festivities with its live coverage of the 2018 "All-Star Celebrity Game" on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. ET. Among the notable non-hoopers: Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx; Anthony Anderson, the star of ABC's "Black-ish"; Caleb McLaughlin of Netflix Inc.'s "Stranger Things"; two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson; and singer/producer/actor Kris Wu.

TNT will present the 2018 "Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars" — a battle among the league's young talent — at 9 p.m. ET that night, and the "All-Star Saturday Night" activities, including the dunk and three-point shooting contests, on Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. ET.

The network will simulcast the All-Star Game, which for the first time will feature a mix of players from the Eastern and Western Conferences as selected by team captains LeBron James and Steph Curry, with sister network TBS (US) on Feb. 18 at 8:20 p.m.

Last year's "All-Star Saturday Night" action inched up 1% to 5.63 million viewers on average. The largely defenseless contest — the West prevailed 192-182 behind an All-Star Game record of 52 points from hometown Pelicans star Anthony Davis — averaged 7.8 million viewers on the two networks, up 2% from 7.6 million in 2016 and the most since 8.0 million in 2013.