Halfway through 2018, many industry observers had written off the pay-per-view event category as a dinosaur whose best day were behind it and would soon be replaced by an emerging digital streaming platform that was going to outbid the industry for the biggest sports events and properties.
Fast forward to the end of December, and the old school distribution platform looks to have picked itself up off the mat and positioned itself to fight again in 2019.
Showtime’s Dec. 1 Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury PPV heavyweight championship fight ended a run of big events that kept the category relevant to sports fans.
In fact, the strong performances of four, fourth quarter pay-per-view events have shown that consumers are still more than willing to dish out big dollars to watch marquee events on their big TV screens despite the launch of several new, low-cost subscription sports streaming services like DAZN and ESPN+ that offer marquee sports events.
The PPV event category didn’t have a major PPV event until September’s Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin middleweight championship fight, but the rematch bout between the two warriors reportedly drew 1 million buys, the gold standard for the category.
Alvarez weeks later would sign an exclusive 11-fight deal with upstart sports streaming service DAZN, but his most recent PPV fights proved that there was life beyond PPV boxing revenue champions Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
In October, the UFC would set PPV records with its UFC 229, which pitted arguably the mixed martial arts outfit’s biggest draw, Conor McGregor, against champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The fight inside the ring – Khabib defeated McGregor – along with a post-fight melee helped the event draw a reported UFC record 2.4 million PPV buys. Next year looks promising with the UFC’s new media partner ESPN now both selling and promoting the mixed martial arts outfit’s PPV events going forward.
November welcomed golf to the PPV event category with the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match. The event reportedly drew in the neighborhood of 1 million PPV viewers. (Most PPV distributors refunded the event’s $19.99 fee to subscribers after a technical glitch forced sports streaming service Bleacher Report Live to offer the event free to its subscribers.)
The reported 325,000 buys for the action-packed Wilder-Fury fight -- which ended in a draw -- helped the category set the tone for what it hopes will be a robust lineup of fights in 2019. Already two boxing shows are on the docket: Showtime’s Jan. 19 Pacquiao-Adrien Broner fight and Fox Sports’ March 16 Mikey Garcia –Errol Spence Jr. championship fight.
Further, industry executives say new content companies are exploring several non-ring PPV events that could further expand the category’s reach in the new year.
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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.