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CTAM Summit: UFCs White: Fighting the Good Fight for PPV

Though he’s now an international programmer whose conquests include 80 million viewers for events on free TV in Brazil, Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White says he’s basically still a promoter overseeing a pay-per-view operation.

“We are a pay-per-view business,” White said at a Multichannel News co-sponsored breakfast event yesterday at the CTAM Summit. “That’s what we are. We look at ourselves as a pay-per-view company.”

UFC’s seven-year, $700-million pact with Fox for broadcast and basic-cable distribution — including essentially reprogramming a small network, Fuel TV, in the process — “is a way to build stars” for the live and PPV events, White told moderator and Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead.

That focus is understandable when you consider the international markets where UFC is taking its male-focused, 18-to-34-enticing, mixed-martial-arts fare.

Consider that UFC is headed to China, for a Fuel contest in Macau in November, to India, where 300 million people are in the target demo with a growing economy, according to White.

There’s no pay-per-view in Brazil, White said, but UFC programming is on a $25-per-month premium channel now in 420,000 homes.

“When we put on fights down there, 80 million people watch the fights on free TV down there,” White said. “There are only 200 million people in the country; that’s how popular it is.”

The exposure also drives event revenue — and merchandise sales, including some unusual ones. White said a manufacturer there did a licensing deal to produce UFC underwear.

“How stupid is that?” he said. Well, 150,000 pairs sold the first day, according to White. “That’s how big Brazil is.”

When White and his partners bought UFC in 2001, cable operators wouldn’t carry mixed martial arts events on pay-per-view because of negative perceptions about its violent content. “Porn is on pay-per-view and we were not allowed on pay-per-view; that was the uphill battle we had,” White said, drawing chuckles.

He recognized that the athleticism of the fighters would be appealing to viewers, if marketed right.

Today, UFC programming is in 185 countries, in 22 languages and 1 billion homes, White said.

He said UFC is “not even close” to having enough ethnically diverse stars, especially to appeal to the dynamic Hispanic market. But UFC is working on that. “Believe me, I am scouring South America right now looking for the next guy.”

Kent Gibbons
Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.