Showtime Looking to End Year With Knockout PPV Boxing Event

Showtime will conclude its 2018 boxing schedule Dec. 1 with its first pay-per-view event of the year, the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury heavyweight championship fight. Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza details the upcoming fight and the network’s overall commitment to boxing. Espinoza also addresses potential emerging competition from new, OTT streaming services. An edited version of our conversation appears below.

Showtime will distribute the Dec. 1 pay-per-view event between Tyson Fury (left) and Deontay Wilder 

Showtime will distribute the Dec. 1 pay-per-view event between Tyson Fury (left) and Deontay Wilder 

Why did Showtime decide to offer the Wilder-Fury fight via PPV after not distributing a PPV event all year?

When you get to the heavyweight championship of the world, that's something where pay-per-view is a consideration. Given the financial parameters, the decision was made, but other factors played in as well. There's a great deal of casual fan interest in the heavyweight division, and sports fans who don't usually follow boxing will get drawn in by a big heavyweight fight. These two fighters, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, have two of the biggest personalities in the sport. There's always a little bit of risk when you are launching a fighter -- or in this case two fighters -- on pay per view for the first time, but we are much more comfortable given these fighters’ personalities. They are two of the most charismatic and likable fighters in the sport, and they can generate a tremendous amount of media just by themselves.

The Tyson-Flury fight caps what has been a busy year for Showtime with regards to boxing. Has 2018 been as successful as you expected from a business standpoint?

We were thrilled with how this year is gone, especially given that we knew we would be facing a new challenge with the retirement of Floyd Mayweather after the McGregor fight. We knew we needed to lean on some new stars to drive the Showtime business and potentially launch back into pay-per-view. Overall, we had a tremendously strong year, with more events and more world championship fights than any other outlet by far. Up to and including the December 1 pay-per-view event, we will have done more than 70 live fights across nearly 30 separate, distinct events, which includes linear TV as well as some of the fights that we made available via streaming on social platforms. So regardless of how you slice and dice it whether it's quality of fights or volume of fights across a variety of platforms, we've been very happy with the product this year.

How would you define the state of boxing on television?

We've seen one notable departure [HBO recently announced it will not offer live boxing events after 2018] and some some new entries from new networks getting into the sport or getting back into the business. Competition remains very, very strong in the sports media business, and the fact that there are multiple, new entrants into boxing shows that this sport is very healthy and presents a very valuable opportunity for distributors. The streaming players have generated a lot of attention, but from our perspective it really isn't particularly about the method of delivery. We've been delivering our boxing content and all of our content via streaming for several years, whether it's through our [Showtime] OTT direct-to-consumer product we launched in 2015, or via the live feed as part of our authenticated product, which dates back to 2010. So the delivery of high level boxing content via streaming is something we've been doing for several years -- what is key is high-quality content, and for boxing fans we know we have been delivering the highest quality content of any U.S. outlet.

Has Showtime’s boxing telecasts translated into increased viewership and subscribers?

When we asked our subscribers how important Showtime Championship Boxing is in their decision to continue subscribing to premium TV, 29 percent of respondents said it's very important and 54 percent considered it important or very important. So any time you have half of the audience saying that something is either important or very important, what it says to us is that boxing remains a valuable commodity for our network. It attracts subscribers; it drives business, and we know we're delivering it well. So we are bullish about the sport of boxing; we've been in it for over 30 years and we're not leaving anytime soon. 

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.