The NBA’s exclusive broadcast rights window with Disney and Warner Bros Discovery has officially closed, meaning that the league is now free to speak with streaming partners ahead of a potentially record-high TV deal. 

Incumbent broadcast partners ESPN (Disney) and TNT (Warner Bros Discovery) had not agreed a deal during the one-and-a-half month exclusive window which closed yesterday (April 22). 

Despite this, an NBA spokesperson confirmed that the league continues to negotiate with Disney and Warner Bros Discovery on securing a deal, with both ESPN and TNT being as equally reliant on the NBA as the league is on them to remain on cable TV. 

The NBA has been on TNT broadcasting since 1988, with ESPN becoming a broadcast partner in 2002. Both networks have been the predominant platforms for the league over the past decade being the only two networks, alongside ABC, after being the only two broadcasters to obtain rights in the last deal in 2014. 

However, the landscape of television has taken a seismic shift over the past several years. Streaming sites have now become the predominant platform for consumers to watch films, TV shows and now, live sports. 

With the growing stranglehold the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and more now have on the consumers attention, this surge in popularity of streaming has shifted the NBA’s attention to acquiring a partner in this field. 

The NBA is aiming to double the valuation of its broadcast deal from 2014, which was worth $24bn over a 10-year period. Inside reports suggest that the league is gunning for a record-setting deal, with a valuation between $50bn-$75bn. 

The addition of one, possibly two, streaming partners may in fact help the NBA land within that ballpark as many streaming platforms are backed by huge tech giants, such as Amazon and Apple, willing to pay above the odds to get consumers on their platforms. 

It is also worth noting that the arrival of the NBA In-Season Tournament this season could also be sold to an exclusive partner, as the group/single elimination style tournament drew praise from media and fans for differentiating itself from the regular season. 

Last season’s NBA Playoffs became the most-watched since 2019, averaging 5.47 million viewers on cable TV. However, whilst this figure is encouraging, the league’s ratings have been on a slow decline over the past decade. 

This is due in no small part to the proliferation of streaming services and with more and more younger people opting to stay digital rather than tune into cable TV. This is also highlighted with the NBA being the most followed sports league in the US in terms of social media engagement, which stood at 2.49 billion engagements in 2022.

So it is clear now that league officials will almost certainly agree a deal with at least one streaming partner, the answer to who that may be, however, is a lot less clear. 

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No streaming platform has taken to live sports broadcasting quite like Amazon and its Prime Video service. 

The platform currently has a 10-year deal in place with the NFL to broadcast Thursday Night Football, which has been so successful in its early stages that it caught the attention of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

Prime Video also holds media rights from a range of sports, such as Premier Boxing Champions, ONE Championship and the English Premier League, although it is set to conclude its broadcasting of the latter at the end of the 2024/25 season. 

With Amazon not being picked as a broadcast partner as part of the newly inked Premier League broadcast rights deal, this may be a contributing factor into the tech giant seeking to obtain rights for live NBA games for regular season and playoff games. 

Last November, Jay Marine, Global Head of Sports at Amazon, confirmed the company’s interest in acquiring NBA rights. 

Marine commented that the NBA is ‘true on all fronts’ when it pertains to the league’s drawing power to add new subscribers, and acknowledged that adding playoff games would be an “important part” of any potential bid. 

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The world’s largest streaming company has long stated it is not in the business of acquiring live sports broadcasting rights, instead opting to produce sports-adjacent docuseries, such as F1’s Drive to Survive, and many more. 

However, in what has been the worst kept secret in the broadcasting industry it seems, Netflix is now embarking on providing live sporting events on its platform. 

The streaming giant recently agreed a 10-year deal to become the new home of WWE’s weekly Monday night show, RAW. The boxing bout between Mike Tyson and Jake Paul is also set to become the platform’s debut in the live sports realm. 

Netflix certainly has the advantage of what it can bring to the table in potential NBA negotiations. The streaming platform has comfortably the most monthly subscribers, totalling nearly 250 million globally. 

Despite its new interest in live sports, Netflix has been slowly dipping its toes. The one-night Tyson vs Paul fight will be a test of its capabilities of live programming, which may lead the platform to discuss exclusive rights to the In-Season Tournament. 

Reports surfaced last November that Netflix was interested in the newly formed tournament and gaining exclusive rights for it could become a possibility, whilst also helping the NBA to drive value in its broadcast deal. 

Amazon and Netflix appear to be the strong two favourites to land a deal with the NBA as its streaming partner. The length of the next TV deal remains unclear, however. 

It is highly unlikely that the league will agree to another lengthy 10-year deal as it did in 2014. With broadcast rights prices at an all-time high, many within the NBA, such as Dallas Mavericks majority owner Mark Cuban, has hinted that the league may opt for a shorter run time of between four and five years to maximise its leverage on the next TV deal. 

One thing is for certain. The NBA will be able to be watched on an exclusive streaming platform and potentially, within the next decade, it will only be shown on digital platforms.

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