In Demand Helps Settle Feud

Showtime and Home Box Office will offer separate pay-per-view boxing matches on Oct. 4, but with different start times to avoid cannibalizing potential PPV buys, according to distributor In Demand.

Showtime's pay-per-view arm, Showtime Event Television, will run its Evander Holyfield-James Toney heavyweight elimination fight from 8 p.m. to midnight.

At midnight, HBO PPV and boxing promoter Bob Arum will begin airing its Hispanic-targeted fight card featuring featherweight champion Erik Morales.

For weeks the two programmers had been feuding over who had rights to the date, and neither party was willing to yield Oct. 4. In Demand, which will distribute both events to the majority of cable MSOs, suggested the compromise of different start times.

SET's event will retail for $44.95, while HBO will charge a suggested price of $34.95.

"We tried very hard to get all the parties to work together," In Demand senior vice president of programming and development Dan York said. "In the end, since they weren't able to come to a resolution, we proposed doing what we felt was in the best interest of our affiliates and our fans."

To help boost buys for each event, York said In Demand will run several PPV replays of both fights throughout the week.

While the events won't air simultaneously, neither party was completely satisfied with the outcome.

HBO senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet said that the network made a "tremendous" effort to get Top Rank to move the Morales-Guty Espadas fight card, but in the end had to abide by a contractual agreement with the boxing Arum to distribute the event on Oct. 4.

Given the fight card's heavy Hispanic flavor and its midnight start time, Taffet said HBO has "modest" expectations for the fight's performance.

"It's a quality fight, but it's a niche event targeted to Hispanic households," Taffet said. "This is not something that we wanted to do and it's not something that we're pleased with, but we have a contractual commitment [to Arum]."

For Showtime, moving the fight's start time an hour earlier than the traditional 9 p.m. start for a PPV boxing event will force the network to reprogram the habits of fight fans. Still, Jay Larkin, senior vice president and executive producer for Showtime Sports and Event programming, doesn't feel the time change or HBO PPV's fight card will hinder the event.

It will also feature a bout between former junior lightweight champion Diego Corrales and former super featherweight champion Joel Casamayor.

Larkin, though, was critical of the process that led to the date dispute.

He said it's an arbitrary and undefined process In Demand uses to determine the establishment of event dates.

Given the economic risks of producing and developing a PPV event, Larkin said being able to confidently secure event dates is imperative.

"It used to be you needed to have the signed [fight] contract and you needed a venue to secure a date," Larkin said. "It's since changed to a situation where In Demand determines, in their opinion, what the bigger event of the evening is.

"As long as it's simply a qualitative judgment and there are no ground rules for that judgment, it makes it a moving target to get a clear PPV date."

York responded by saying that In Demand makes its programming decisions in consideration of what's best for its affiliates, consumers and the company. "Each program that we license has to stand on its own merits, both on a qualitative and quantitative basis."

R. Thomas Umstead

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.