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NBA’s television partners scramble to fill slots, appease advertisers

Nov 16, 2011, 1:12 PM EDT

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Great, more “CSI: New York.”

Among the many left scrambling without the NBA are television networks that normally would be beaming regular season games into our homes. They have to fill the space and they have to try and keep the advertisers who buy that space happy. National networks like TNT are forced to bring us more how-done-it crime dramas and offer advertisers other options, and regional sports networks are digging into their vaults for historic games.

In the end this will be about the money, eventually the league and teams are going to have to pay some people back. But right now it’s about filling the airtime. Everything is explained well in a New York Times story today.

Big media companies are likely to feel the chill, with months of empty television time that would typically be filled with N.B.A. games. ESPN and ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Company, and Time Warner’s Turner Sports pay a combined $1 billion a season for the rights to games. The N.B.A. drives ratings in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic that advertisers pay a premium to reach. And it gives cable networks leverage in negotiating carriage fees, or the price cable companies pay in order to offer subscribers a network.

The N.B.A. said on Tuesday that at the end of the current season it would discuss repayment to networks for fees associated with canceled games. If the entire season is wiped out, the league could add an additional year to Turner and Disney’s contract, which runs through the 2016 season….

The lockout could have a disproportionate impact on regional sports networks that rely on a hometown team’s games to bring in viewers and local advertisers. The MSG network, owned by the Madison Square Garden Company, typically has Knicks games three nights a week. It will now rely on shows that mix archival Knicks games with player interviews. MSG will still have live National Hockey League games.

TNT is giving us more “CSI: New York” right now. If they start having to give us a lot more “Leverage” that’s when we will all feel the pain.

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