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HBO’s Taffet Looks Ahead to Boxing’s Next Great Era

Mark Taffet is leaving HBO at year-end after a quarter century in its sports department. Most recently senior vice president of HBO Sports, Taffet helped launch HBO’s pay-per-view division, then dubbed TVKO, in 1991 with the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman fight.

Through HBO boxing, Taffet has had a hand in delivering some of the biggest events in PPV boxing history, including two of the top three PPV events of all time: the May 2 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight, which drew a record $400 million in revenue and 4.4 million buys; and the 2007 Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya bout, which generated the second-most buys at 2.7 million.

Taffet, who was recently inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about his decision to leave HBO at the end of his contract as well as his future plans in the sport. An edited portion of this interview appeared in MCN's Dec. 14, 2015, issue; the full-length version follows.

MCN:What prompted your decision to leave HBO now?

Mark Taffet: I decided that, sitting at the top right now after the biggest year in the history of PPV and ending with the [Nov. 21 Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez PPV fight], there would never be a better time for me to begin the next chapter of my career. Given my passion and energy for the sport, I thought it was time for me to fulfill some of my dreams and work closer with promoters, fighters and other key players in the sport in a way that my job definition at HBO as a television executive wouldn’t accommodate.

MCN:So your plan is to remain in the sport of boxing?

MT: I have a keen interest in helping in some way to shape the next great era of boxing. I feel that it is the most fulfilling next step for me, and I hope to work with a number of players — most of whom do business with HBO — and help them realize their dreams.

MCN:Are we at the cusp of that great era, since Floyd Mayweather says he’s retiring and we’re still in the process of building that next pound-for-pound champion?

MT: I’ve been very fortunate in that I began during the great heavyweight era of Holyfield, [Mike] Tyson and [Lennox] Lewis, and worked through the transition of that era to Oscar De La Hoya, and was part of the transition to the next great era of Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao. What happens over the next year or two inside and outside the ring with those fighters and promoters will have a lot to do with the shape of boxing’s next great era, and I would like to be part of that process.

MCN: Along with experiencing the changes of boxing in the ring you’ve also witnessed an evolution in how boxing and other sports and entertainment events are delivered to homes via pay-per-view. How has the change in technology influenced the sport?

MT: Boxing was uniquely suited for pay per view because of the technology that was in place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when people drove to stadiums, arenas, racetracks and movie theaters to watch big-time boxing on a closed-circuit basis. Pay per view offered a great improvement over that experience by allowing people to sit in the comfort of their own homes. The subsequent development of digital signals, high-definition pictures, surround sound and big-screen TVs took the in-home experience to another level and really helped accelerate the explosion of pay per view from 16 million homes in 1991, when we did our first fight, to well over 100 million homes today, with Mayweather-Pacquiao and Canelo-Cotto having taken place this year.

Technology has always been a driver of boxing pay-per-view, and I believe that we are approaching another one of those eras where technology will have a great impact on the next generation of the sport. Virtual reality, 3D TV, personal and mobile device viewing and video streaming are all likely to be factors in the next iteration of the sport’s growth. It will be a very exciting few years ahead for boxing and for pay per view.