Inside TNT Sports’ launch after BT Sport takeover with Shaquille O’Neal and Co. the secret weapon


THE SPORTS TV landscape in the UK went through another major shake-up this year when TNT Sports replaced BT Sport – catching many football fans by surprise.

Even the most casual sports viewers would’ve had trouble recognizing the Warner Bros. Discovery-owned brand that entered the scene this season.

Ralf Nowak/TNT SportsNBA coverage, including the acclaimed Inside the NBA studio show, will be a major tool in TNT Sports’ bid to tackle the UK media market[/caption]

Ralf Nowak/TNT SportsInside the NBA features legendary American host Ernie Johnson (second left) and NBA icons Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley (left to right)[/caption]

Damian Burchardt / The U.S. SunShaq has been known for his on-air antics during Inside the NBA, providing entertainment value to the show[/caption]

GettyTNT Sports replaced BT Sport on British airwaves earlier this year in a major shake-up of the sports TV landscape in the UK[/caption]

TNT Sports boasts rights to the Premier League, Champions League, and Europa League football as well as the UFC.

But the brand is already a powerhouse in the US and Latin America – and SunSport visited their 300,000-square foot Atlanta headquarters for an exclusive insight into their ambitions.

TNT has notably established itself as the leader in the NBA market and the league’s close partner.

It has served as Warner Bros. Discovery’s most prominent basketball output in the US for decades with the support of sister platforms Bleacher Report and NBA TV.

Its crown jewel is the world-renowned ‘Inside the NBA’ studio show, starring charismatic basketball icons Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith as well as the legendary American host Ernie Johnson.

The feel-good crew will be central to the media giant’s operations as it makes a bid to tackle the British TV market, SunSport found out on the behind-the-scenes tour.

Freshly off a massive merger, Warner Bros. Discovery recently cut some of its US sports output by cancelling some prominent shows – like HBO‘s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel after 29 seasons.

Yet not only did the media giant acquire BT Sport, a transaction it initially didn’t plan for, but also snatched UK broadcasting rights to the NBA from Sky Sports having rebranded the channel to TNT Sports ahead of the start of the 2023-24 season.

BT Group‘s decision to offload BT Sport – which broadcast NBA games between 2013-2018 – last year presented the American company with an opportunity to export the TNT Sports brand to the UK.

And it came at an opportune time, coinciding with the end of Sky Sports‘ four-year TV deal with the league.

Equipped with the advanced technical infrastructure and access to the vast and diverse library of content, TNT Sports could suddenly become the home of the NBA in the UK having already become one stateside.

It also gave the broadcaster a chance to introduce the new brand before Discovery Plus, a WDB streaming service, transitions into Max in the UK as it did in other markets, which can happen in 2026 at the earliest due to current output deals with HBO and Sky.

TNT SportsTNT Sports owns UK rights to the Premier League, Champions League, and Europa League[/caption]

Ralf Nowak/TNT SportsSunSport took a tour of the TNT Sports studios in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier in November[/caption]

Ralf Nowak/TNT SportsWarner Bros. Discovery executives Craig Barry (left) and Scott Young (right) will head TNT Sports operations in the US and UK, respectively[/caption]

“It was almost too good to pass up,” Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe senior vice president of content and production Scott Young exclusively told SunSport.

TNT Sports wants both UK and US departments to collaborate on sports coverage, a first for international WBD businesses.

But bosses are determined to make it happen and even stretch beyond basketball, including the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Young and Warner Bros. Discovery sports executive vice president and COO Craig Barry said.

They hope the two teams can learn from one another, helping their understanding of how content from one country translates into another – and, perhaps, even reinvent each other’s programming.

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“I think some of the ways that we approach doing content are interesting to some of their fans,” Barry said. “And, conversely, I think some of the ways that they do content will be a new lens and a new way for us to look at.”

Young added: “We’re working very closely with Premier League and UEFA on how we elevate our football coverage. And we’ll start doing the same with NBA as we start to attend more and more games.”

When it comes to NBA coverage in the UK, TNT Sports sources the domestic US broadcast only for now.

It shows nine live games a week, including a Tuesday marquee doubleheader wrapped around Inside the NBA – famously rich in on-air antics from O’Neal and Barkley, which saw the former being shoved under a Christmas tree during the broadcast last year.

In addition to 250 regular-season fixtures, the broadcaster promises to deliver nine playoff games per week, both conference finals, and the NBA Finals series.

It also offers two weekly magazine shows: NBA Action, featuring generic NBA topics, and NBA on Fire, presenting the best plays of the previous week.

But TNT Sports is analysing the interest in specific players and teams and reviewing the popularity of different time slots in an effort to develop a UK-based show, hoping it will make its content better resonate with the British audience.

“I mean sometimes producers can make an error of needing to jump too quickly into what they think people want to watch,” Scott said

“Thankfully through social media and other points of communication, you can get real feedback from what the audience is enjoying these days and develop a show that suits our three-year term rather than trying to make something on day one that was not going to fit.”

Building on its current NBA programming rather than adjusting it to a more culturally relevant form is the approach Warner Bros. Discovery wants to take.

TNT prides itself in embracing the intersection of sports and culture, evident in the largely unscripted, playful, and intentionally chaotic nature of Inside the NBA – a much different approach to that of a typical British football show.

After SunSport a visit to the TNT headquarters, Shaq put Chuck in a headlock during a halftime segment to mock Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green’s brawl with French center Rudy Gobert in one of the day’s games – and it went viral on social media.

TNT Sports wants to amplify moments like those to connect with the fans, regardless of where they come from.

“We understand our obligation to the hardcore fan, but we also understand our equal obligation to the casual fan,” Barry said.

“That’s kind of the differentiation in the way that we create content and do our shows – with this really kind of honest, unapologetic, authentic way of doing sports around the NBA.”

WBD executives believe that TNT Sports’ programming will translate, banking on its originality, entertainment value, and the UK audience’s previous exposure to the NBA.

The star power of the likes of O’Neal and Barkley makes them all the more confident of the global venture’s success.

“I think that’s what people will gravitate to,” Young said.

“Not whether they’re American talent being seen by a UK audience but really engaging talent. You sit there and go, ‘They’re having a good time. I want to watch this. I’m learning something along the way.’

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“A super fan knows everything there is to know about a sport, doesn’t matter which sport it is. Can we get a casual fan, and even a non-NBA fan, to start enjoying this through this content?

“I think that’s the real growth opportunity for us.”

Not only that, WBD is keen on growing the TNT Sports portfolio, pouncing on future opportunities if they fit the platform’s philosophy – as they did with the NBA rights.

“We look at all sports rights as they become available,” Scott said. “Every serious sports broadcaster should do and does.”

Watch all the latest action from around the NBA live on TNT Sports. TNT Sports is available through its streaming destination Discovery+ and across all major TV platforms. This isn’t Just Sport, This is Everything. For more info visit:

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