The general uncompetitiveness of the NBA Playoffs, featuring 8 out of the 15 series lasting just five games or fewer, led to noticeable year-to-year declines for its major broadcast partners, TNT and ESPN.

With an average of 1.711 million viewers in prime time, TNT fell 17 percent in total viewers from last year and it was the network’s lowest second-quarter audience mark in at least a decade. As a positive, TNT was still king of the cable universe among adults 18-49 in prime time. According to Live+Seven Day data, TNT averaged 842,000 adults 18-49 for the quarter, 34 percent above runner-up TBS.

ESPN declined 9 percent in prime time from 2016 (1.386 million vs. 1.526 million) and was the cabler’s least-watched second-quarter in four years.

Only two cable sports networks gained in total viewers in second quarter, each with one percent increases: NBCSN (167,000 viewers), with the help of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs; and, NFL Network (73,000 viewers) which delivered its most-watched network coverage of the NFL Draft to-date.

Prime Time (Mon-Sun 8-11 p.m.)

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Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

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Source: Live+Same Day data from Mar. 27-June 25, 2016, Nielsen Media Research

Note 1: ESPN and ESPN2 aired World Cup Soccer in June 2014

Note 2: In 2012, ESPNU was not rated by Nielsen; in 2012-13, Fox Sports 1 (FS1) was known as Speed Channel and Fox Sports 2 (FS2) was known as Fuel.

About Douglas Pucci

Douglas Pucci is a contributor to Programming Insider and blogger at Son of the Bronx.

  • Respected Citizen

    There were 74 games before the Finals this season, and there were 75 in 2015, 2011, 2010, and 2008.

    What hurt both TNT & ESPN was 2 fewer Conference games each (9 total instead of 13 last season).

    • RJ2008

      It’s the AVERAGE not the total!

      • Respected Citizen

        The highest rated games in a series are game 7s and 6s, and the highest rated round of the NBA playoffs for TNT & ESPN cable are the Conference finals. The ratings for a 6th and 7th game for Warriors/Spurs would have been astronomical.

        • RJ2008

          If every teams were good, ratings would be astronomical. But with “Super Teams” and a very top heavy league (GS, CLE), ratings are going down. Hence ratings sink due to lackluster playoffs.

          • Respected Citizen

            Who knows, maybe the improved Celtics, T’Wolves, Rockets, or Spurs will take some series to game 6 or 7 next season. If they continue to get swept (in tighter games instead of being dominated), I doubt the ratings will improve.

  • Bscotch Bscotch

    Can you steal some numbers for Sportscenter6 while you’re selling against proprietary data? Thanks so much.

    • Joannnpulido

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  • JWJ

    What is interesting to me is really how few people are watching these channels.
    In a country of 330M, 1.5M are watching ESPN. 600K watching NBCSN. 125K NFL Network.

    • Tom Ado

      Not surprising. It’s easy to get an inflated view of how big sports are if you spend a lot of time on sports sites/blogs. But once you step outside that bubble, you realize how few Americans care about sports in general. An NBA Finals or MLB World Series will typically average 15-20 million, meaning 300 million+ in a country of 320 million+ didn’t care. A Super Bowl will draw 110 million+, but at the end of the day, 200 million+ didn’t watch it. With the possible exception of football, you can say every sport is niche in this country.

  • Oneirishman

    ESPN was poisoned by liberal politics, with the belief ppl don’t mind in your face – insulting political protests, awards for “brave” trannies, and preachy PC commentary. Both the NBA/NFL now have the reputation of coddling athletes that are anti-cop, anti-white, American hating clueless reprobates. It’s owners frozen with fear at offending a 20 something self absorbed loudmouth damaging the league, rather than doing the right thing by speaking up for good old fashioned American values.