Performing a Pay-Per-View Comeback

Event providers not offering boxing, wrestling or UFC shows have all but abandoned the pay-per-view industry over the past decade.

In the late 1990s, music, comedy and other entertainment-themed events were as prevalent — and, for the most part, as financially lucrative for cable operators — as all but the biggest ring sports events. But the emergence of YouTube and other alternative-distribution platforms offering free comedy-show clips and live concert footage has grounded a category that not too long ago was generating 200,000-plus buys and million-dollar revenue paydays for such concerts as New Kids on the Block.

Yet the surprising performance of an August PPV comedy concert has given a pulse to the entertainment category. The Aug. 2 SteveHarvey Grand Stand-Up Finale comedy show was touted as the comedian/actor/talk show host’s final comedy show performance of his 27-year career.

Given the show’s unexpectedly strong PPV performance, the industry would certainly welcome an encore.

Despite an 11 p.m. premiere on Thursday — a typically poor night for PPV purchasing activity — the show turned in the most successful performance of a non-ring sports event in the last five years and ranks as the most successful “concert-type” event in more than a decade, according to In Demand (which did not reveal specific buy figures).

It followed a simple formula that works for practically any media event: Harvey, in collaboration with In Demand, created fresh content viewers couldn’t get anywhere else, and then marketed the heck out of it.

Unlike typical PPV concert events that occur during the last leg of a performer’s tour, Harvey’s material was new to most potential cable, satellite and telco PPV users.

Then Harvey himself got the word out to his audience.

In the days prior to the show’s PPV premiere, he encouraged viewers to pre-buy the show on his website and Facebook page; tweeted his followers about the show; and talked up the event to 7 million listeners on his syndicated morning radio show. He also aired “pre-show” clips, warming up at the venue, on YouTube.

No one can sell a marquee event quite like the performers themselves, as Harvey showed.

He may also have created a marketing blueprint for other popular comedians, singers, magicians and other entertainers looking to succeed on PPV.

Hopefully more performers will see the PPV event category as more than just a tired punchline.

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.