Dealt a body blow by the ongoing global pandemic, the pay-per-view sports business is looking to rebound in 2021. And sports streamer FITE looks to be a major player going into next year, offering boxing, mixed martial arts and other top events. Flipps Media-owned FITE currently streams more than 100 PPV events globally per month for its more than 4 million registered users to purchase, including the Nov. 28 Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. exhibition fight and the Dec. 5 Errol Spence Jr.-Danny Garcia championship boxing event.
Leading the eight-year-old service’s charge is pay-per-view veteran and FITE chief operating officer Michael Weber. In more than three decades of working for such companies as TNA Impact Wrestling, Clear Channel Motorsports, World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment, Weber was involved in the marketing, distribution and production of more than 250 PPV television events prior to joining FITE in 2016.
Weber spoke with Multichannel News senior content producer, programming
R. Thomas Umstead about the health of the PPV category and how FITE is building toward a strong event campaign in 2021.
How does FITE differentiate itself from other sports streaming services? First, we’re independent. We’re not beholden to any one individual company, so we’re open to working with everybody and anybody. We’re up to 4 million registered users on our platform and we’ve distributed more than 4,000 PPV events. This is all we do. We’re a technology company first, and we’re not really producing events.
You've been part of the PPV sports business for more than 30 years. How do you see the event business evolving going forward? I think the business has a great future. What the pandemic has proven is that you don’t need a huge live audience to put together a quality PPV event, so I think you’ll see the number of events increasing. If you put the right event out there, people are going to buy it. We’ve done more events in the past three months that we did prior to the pandemic. We’re now averaging more than 100 events a month.
What TV shows are you bingeing? The Queen’s Gambit
Favorite sports event to attend? WrestleMania 3 in 1987. Record attendance in the Silverdome.
Books on your nightstand or tablet? The Dynasty by Jeff Benedict, about the New England Patriots; The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, the epic story of the great migration.
Bucket-list travel destination? Australia
Favorite podcast? Grilling JR, with Jim Ross and Conrad Thompson
How significant will streaming purchases for top PPV events become over the next two to three years? Fans are going more digital and leaving cable and satellite services and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. ESPN Plus and [Foxsports.com] are doing alright with PPV buys now as viewers are getting more comfortable with buying big PPV events on digital.
Will you look to extend FITE’s reach beyond combat sports? We’ve branched out beyond combat sports. We’ve done some South America soccer, we’ve distributed a marathon from Spain. We recently did an indoor motocross event from Pennsylvania and we’ve done some collegiate wrestling. We feel we want to be the place for every sport program to find a home on the digital platform.
Do you see FITE converting to a subscription sports service in the future? The mathematics on the way we do events is actually more advantageous financially than subscription. We’re also learning that people just don’t want anymore subscription services: they have their Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, ESPN Plus and WWE Network. If you’re trying to save money by signing up to streaming services you may end up paying more money than for cable services. With us, you pay for what you want. If you want to watch your favorite wrestling brand every month you can buy the events, or if you want to watch the big boxing match every few months you can do that as well. The events are priced accordingly and it’s still cheaper than attending the live event.
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.
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