- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

Washington will host its first NBA All-Star Game in 21 years this weekend, but the District of Columbia by no means has a monopoly in intimacy to pro basketball's annual showcase.
Thanks to the league's newly redesigned Web site, www.NBA.com, and television channel, NBA.com TV, hoop fans in 209 other countries can claim just as much access to All-Star Weekend as those living here. More than five years and $100 million in the making, the two flagships of the NBA Entertainment division will have their coming-out party this weekend.
The league plans more than 90 hours of All-Star coverage through NBA.com and NBA.com TV, encompassing all the main competitions live, NBA Jam Session at Washington Convention Center, the myriad player parties around town and other behind-the-scenes features.
The All-Star Game itself will be transmitted in 14 different languages over NBA.com, and on-line viewers will be able to pick their viewing angle from eight robotic cameras set up at MCI Center.
"This is our Super Bowl," said Adam Silver, president of NBA Entertainment, the league programming division in charge of NBA.com and NBA.com TV. "The overarching goal here is to bring our events to literally everyone around the world who has an interest in basketball. We will have a significant presence at every event this weekend."
Operating from a large production studio in Secaucus, N.J., the two ventures have become important instruments in massaging the league's oft-tattered public image. Each of the other major pro leagues is similarly developing direct-to-fan communications through the Internet, in-house magazines and self-produced TV shows. But the NBA in 1999 became the first out of the gate with a television channel devoted solely to itself and remains the only league to have one.
So far, though, the actual programming on NBA.com TV has consisted largely of game recaps and vintage highlights, giving less than hardcore fans little reason to tune in. All-Star Weekend seeks to go much further by providing a heavy dose of live, original programming of an event that transcends mainstream sports fans.
"This is a major opportunity to bring our league and the All-Star weekend to new people," Silver said. "It's critical that as a league we move beyond our traditional audience."
Despite the league's depth of ambition, its viewership goals on line and on NBA.com TV remain modest. NBA.com averages 750,000 unique viewers per day, a figure it wants to increase to 1 million during the weekend. That draw, however, would remain far less than either NFL.com, SportsLine.com or ESPN.com, the three most-trafficked sports sites on the Internet.
NBA.com TV, available through satellite and digital cable providers, is in only about 6 percent of the more than 100 million television households in the country. Conversely, more than 10 million households will tune into the All-Star Game itself Sunday on NBC.
To boost its reach, the NBA has aggressively pursued deals with other on-line players to distribute basketball content. The league holds partnerships with America Online, SportsLine.com, and Yahoo, among others. Last week the NBA also partnered with Real Networks, makers of the popular Internet audio/video software Real Player.
Real Networks is now offering NBA.com TV content as part of its Gold Pass programming service. It is believed to be the first time live premium cable TV has been available continuously on line and could be a harbinger as broadband Internet access becomes more widespread.
"The NFL and NBA are definitely the two major sports leagues that have been the most proficient and efficient in developing their interactive properties," said Christopher Todd, analyst for Jupiter Communications, an Internet research firm in New York. "The NBA has clearly done a lot of homework and found out their fans live all over the world and have an appetite for information beyond what they're getting from traditional media. I think we can continue to expect [commissioner] David Stern to push the envelope."

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