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New NBA schedule features earlier shift in many national broadcast windows

The release of the 2019-20 National Basketball Association schedule is arriving with a drastic change to its national broadcast schedule.

The NBA will dramatically reduce the number of games starting at 10:30pm Eastern Time on either TNT or ESPN from 57 during the 2018-19 season to 33 in 2019-20. Of the 10:30pm ET starts remaining on the national broadcast schedule, the bulk of them will be during TNT’s marquee Thursday night window that includes the perennially popular “Inside the NBA.”

The 42-per-cent shift is in part a response to lowered ratings that represented a somewhat rare speed bump for a league that otherwise has shown sizable growth in numerous metrics. National NBA ratings were down 15 percent last season on WarnerMedia’s TNT, while Disney-owned ESPN fell by 1 percent. Many industry observers pegged much of those viewership declines to the shift of superstar LeBron James from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers, where his games often aired too late for East Coast viewers.

As a result, ESPN will eliminate 8pm and 10:30pm starts during their Wednesday doubleheaders altogether, instead using either a 7:30pm and 10pm pairing, or a 7pm and 9:30pm one. 

TNT, similarly, will cut the number of 8pm and 10:30pm pairings for their Tuesday doubleheaders from nine last season to two in the upcoming one, also going with 7:30pm and 10pm, or 7pm and 9:30pm.

The NBA today highlighted the positive impact that the scheduling changes would have for viewers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa with a record 48 primetime games as part of the league’s ‘NBA Saturdays’ and ‘NBA Sundays’ initiative.

The NBA said: “With more earlier scheduled tip-off times for games in the U.S. than ever before, fans in the region will be able to watch weekly live primetime games on Saturday and Sunday starting at 8.00pm CET from the start of the season, providing fans with a full weekend of primetime NBA action.”

The NBA in the 2019-20 season is also continuing to reduce the number of back-to-back sets of games each team plays, something that has long been a sizable complaint around the league. Teams will play an average of 12.4 back-to-backs during the upcoming season, down from 13.3 last year and down 36 percent from an average of 19.3 five years ago.

The upcoming season will tip off Oct. 22 with the defending league champions Toronto playing host to New Orleans and No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson, while the late game in a TNT doubleheader will be a cross-Los Angeles matchup between James’ Lakers and the Clippers, which added all-stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in free agency.