Cable Operators

'Ultimate Fighting’ Punches Up Net

7/14/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

In yet another example of video making the leap from television to computer screen, Zuffa’s Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise has entered the Internet ring with a new portal offering rare footage and unaired mixed-martial-arts matches.

The idea is to give fight fans a wider range of jabs and takedowns than they can see in Ultimate Fighting Championship programs on Spike TV. And with the Web-based portal built by technology provider Entriq Inc., UFC also may in the future go extra rounds with distribution to mobile devices.

“UFC on Demand,” which debuted in May, offers fight fans the option to buy individual fight video for $1.99 apiece or sign up for one of two subscription packages — $14.99 for unlimited downloads monthly, or $59.99 for a six-month unlimited download subscription. The a la carte purchases allow users to watch the video for seven days, while the video for subscription customers is good for 30 days.

UFC’s library features more than 40 full-length fight videos, including bouts that never saw the light of linear cable broadcast. Many of the unaired fights result from preliminary bouts that are taped, but aren’t shown because the main fight takes up the allotted program time.

UFC President Dana White said the decision to move into Web video distribution was prompted by demand from fans.

“The fans are asking for it and the technology now is in place,” White said. “We have a ton of content now, so why not?”

To field the online video service, UFC turned to Entriq to supply everything from the Web site design to the download engine, security and billing to power the video distribution. Entriq also is handling customer care for the site.

UFC is following the lead of other media brands fielding on-demand Web video, but it did add a couple of unique elements. For example, UFC is offering users video in two quality versions — standard and high-definition — for the same download price.

The decision to offer the content in two formats is another experiment for UFC, said Edward Muncey, vice president of new media and technology. It wanted to maintain good video quality that would be comparable to its extensive DVD video products, but it also wanted to pay heed to variations in users’ broadband connections.

“Considering the download times, the 700 versus 1,500 [kbps] — we know that obviously it is going to be a longer download time for the 1,500. But people love our fights and our events, and I think they are willing to go through that and wait for that download,” Muncey said. As for offering the 700 kbps version, “it’s an option, and we are going to see what our fans think.”

Besides the unaired fights, the site will also offer a series called Legendary Fights, which will present the fight footage and interviews and background video profiling the fighters.

“We are going to come up with a lot of creative content for this site,” White said. “Plus, these reality shows that we’ve done — there are thousands of hours of footage, and every show is only an hour.”

To that end, UFC is changing its Spike TV content with the upcoming Ultimate Fighter season four. Titled “The Comeback,” it will feature profiles on fighters that were once stars and have since disappeared from the scene. Clips from those fighters’ peak fights will be distributed on the Web download site.

For Entriq, the deal adds to an expanding resume for on-demand video services, which already includes work for Viacom Inc. property MTV: Music Television and NBC Universal.

“These are the type of deals that we want, obviously, and this is indicative of the type of customers that we are going to go after in the near future,” said Scott Crowder, CEO of Entriq.

In the future, UFC may also add live fights, Muncey said. It also is looking ahead to the possibility of providing video for mobile or even IPTV on-demand services.

To expand to those platforms, UFC would have to customize the browser to display on a two-inch mobile phone screen or on a big-screen TV, “but that’s about it — the content is all completely transferable as far as the IPTV platforms are concerned, and the content management the way it works — you pump it into our automatic publishing system, and then it automatically publishes out to the 2-foot or 10-foot experience,” Crowder said.

Still, UFC is going to take a walk-before-run philosophy, concentrating first on building the Internet video service before expanding to mobile or IPTV.

“We are going to look at what types of fights viewers want, and quality is a great example of that,” Muncey said. “And then obviously looking down the road for mobile opportunities and the 10-foot experience. And we will be evaluating that each and every day for the next couple of months.”

September