The National Basketball Association has inked a broadcast deal with Walt Disney Company and AOL Time Warner, in an agreement that takes the bulk of games away from free TV.

The $4.6 billion, six-year pact is a 25% mark-up on the four-year, $2.46bn contract with NBC and AOL TW’s Turner Sports, even though ratings for basketball have fallen almost 40% since 1996.

Under the agreement, the NBA and AOL TW will set up a joint cable channel, with the ailing CNN/Sports Illustrated offering tipped to be converted into the co-owned venture. The NBA has to supply 12.5 million subscribers to the channel, and it hopes to get help from three cable operators that own teams. In addition, basketball will appear on AOL TW’s TNT network.

Games will also be broadcast on Disney’s ESPN and ABC - the bulk on subscriber-based ESPN, which will pay most of Disney’s $400m annual contribution to the deal, leaving just 15 regular-season games and the NBA championship series on broadcast network ABC.

News source: Wall Street Journal