AOL, Disney Score NBA Deals

Media giants AOL Time Warner and the Walt Disney Co. will share in a massive, six-year broadcast and interactive promotional deal with the National Basketball Association.

Through the arrangement, AOL’s America Online unit becomes the “Official ISP of the NBA, WNBA and the National Basketball Development League” — an epithet that the New York-based media conglomerate gains the rights to tout throughout its broadcast and interactive sports coverage.

Subscribers to Dulles, Va.-based America Online’s service also will be able to access free, streaming Web audio feeds from some NBA games. The companies did not disclose how many games would be included in the arrangement.

Additionally, a two-year-old online content-sharing and promotional deal between AOL and the NBA will be renewed one year early, through the new arrangement. As a result, NBA content will continue appearing across America Online and AOL-owned Web sites, such as Netscape.com and CompuServe.

“This agreement highlights AOL Time Warner’s commitment to bringing our customers the very best in sports content, and significantly strengthens our company’s unique position in the sports marketplace,” said AOL co-chief operating officer Bob Pittman. “This is an exciting step for both AOL Time Warner and the NBA … we’ll help the NBA increase its fan base by bringing basketball fans across America the very best in NBA games, interactive content and features, and much more.”

AOL’s arrangement with the NBA reprises cross-media promotional efforts that it launched for the National Football League following a deal signed in July. In addition to broadcast rights, the earlier arrangement named AOL the “Official ISP of the NFL.”

Meanwhile, Disney’s ESPN cable unit will gain additional rights to video highlights for its own use online. ESPN.com will also receive an expanded cross-promotional and cross-programming agreement with NBA.com.

Additionally, ESPN will work with the NBA to expand content distribution to emerging interactive media outlets, such as interactive TV, broadband and video games — the first time that such media have been covered in broadcast agreements.

For instance, though the technology is in its infancy, ESPN.com gained new rights to broadcast time-shifted video-on-demand viewings of NBA games.

ESPN also gains rights to video highlights, real-time data and merchandise sales via interactive television and the Web. The cable network also said it would expand its ESPN.com fantasy basketball game to emerging platforms, such as wireless.

“This agreement goes to the strength of our company,” said Disney chairman Michael Eisner in a statement. “Disney is about delivering great programming through a wide range of platforms. There is no question the NBA represents great, exciting, fast-paced competitive sports for over-the-air free broadcasting, for cable television, and for the Internet. Whether the content is sports, entertainment or news, people across America and around the world look to us for the best.”

The NBA also said it is pursuing similar emerging media efforts with AOL.

“We are delighted that two of the most significant media entities in the world have joined with the NBA to bring the greatest game played by the world’s best athletes to fans everywhere,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern in a statement.

Offline portions of the deal renew and expand television rights owned by AOL’s Turner division and Disney’s ESPN and ABC networks until 2008. In addition, AOL Time Warner and the NBA also said that they would look into creating a joint, national 24-hour cable sports network.

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