Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder’s exciting one-punch knockout of top contender Luis Ortiz during their Nov. 23 pay-per-view event effectively concluded In Demand’s 2019 boxing campaign — a year in which the PPV content aggregator survived some early programming body blows from emerging sports streaming services.
Despite losing monthly UFC mixed martial arts events to ESPN+ this past March — and still reeling from the loss of marquee boxing matches from draws such as light heavyweight champion Canelo Alvarez to DAZN in late 2018 — In Demand officials said the company has found its footing in an evolving PPV events ring and is poised for a breakout year in 2020.
In Demand, owned by Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications, has reached multi-event distribution deals with Premier Boxing Champions and All Elite Wrestling that will provide at least eight PPV events for its cable affiliates, representing more than 60 million subscribers. With negotiations for other high-profile events currently ongoing, In Demand executives said the reports of the PPV industry’s death at the hands of growing sports streaming services is highly exaggerated.
Money Still to Be Made
“The pay-per-view model is still a good business,” said In Demand president and CEO Dale Hopkins. “For big events, the greatest profits are still in pay-per-view.”
The Wilder-Ortiz fight was the sixth major PPV boxing event In Demand distributed in 2019, with four of those fights coming from PBC and Fox Sports. The new multiyear boxing output deal calls for PBC/Fox Sports to distribute a PPV boxing event each quarter, via In Demand. Bruce Binkow, president of Integrated Sports, a sports marketing and operations agency that represents PBC, said the company is bullish about In Demand and the PPV event category.
“Boxing has a long and successful history with the PPV platform … fighters have long known that becoming a ‘pay-per-view attraction’ is the ultimate achievement in terms of notoriety and earning potential,” Binkow said. “Additionally, fight fans are accustomed to gathering friends and family for a communal viewing party when a big fight comes around on PPV.”
For In Demand, the deal solidifies a lineup of marquee PPV fights in 2020 that offer revenue opportunities for affiliates. One of 2020’s first major events of the year could be a potential Feb. 22 heavyweight title rematch between Wilder and Tyson Fury. Their 2018 fight ended in an exciting draw.
“The matchups on PPV are stronger than those on the streaming side,” In Demand executive vice president of programming and general counsel Michael Berman said. “Not only are we getting a large number of fights over the next few years, but we know we’re going to get some great matchups as well.”
In Demand’s long-term output deal with AEW brings a former event staple back to PPV. (It’s unclear if the events will be made available on Turner’s streaming Bleacher Report Live service, as was the case with prior AEW events.) World Wrestling Entertainment had moved its monthly PPV events to its in-house streaming service, WWE Network, back in 2014.
The deal calls for AEW — which launched earlier this year and currently airs the weekly AEW: Dynamite on TNT — to distribute a minimum of one PPV event per quarter through June 2021.
AEW president and CEO Tony Khan said the deal with In Demand is a perfect complement to the wrestling franchise’s basic-cable series.
“PPV is still available in millions of homes, and it's still a convenient and easy way to order events,” Khan said. “In Demand has a great history in delivering big PPV events, and we’ve been able to connect with our fans already through events on In Demand.”
Mark Boccardi, In Demand senior vice president of programming and marketing, added that two previous AEW PPV events performed well for the company, although he would not reveal specific results. “[AEW] has a very energetic leader in Tony Khan; they have a very good stable of wrestlers; they have a Turner deal; and they have the industry's support,” he said.
“They have a lot of ingredients to make a successful PPV run.”
Early Blows in ’19
In Demand’s PPV event prospects for 2020 look a lot more promising than they did in early 2019. The move of UFC’s PPV events to ESPN+ in March was a big loss, particularly since $19.99-per-month subscription service DAZN had already picked off several popular boxers with pay-per-view appeal, including Alvarez, former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, to air exclusively on the streamer.
Fox Sports and Showtime helped filled the PPV event void with several marquee fights in 2019. While none of those events reached the gold standard of 1 million PPV buys, each event generated between 200,000 and 500,000 buys at suggested price points ranging from $65 to $75, according to industry sources.
Fox Sports executive vice president and head of programming and scheduling Bill Wanger said the PPV industry remains a viable option for the distribution of its biggest boxing cards.
“A lot of people forget that ESPN+ is doing PPV under a different model that doesn’t use traditional MVPDs; we think it's important to have traditional MVPDs selling the fight,” he said. “We also have a strong digital buying apparatus, where people can buy our events on a phone or tablet or however they want to watch it. We think we have the best of both worlds.”
Showtime, which distributed a Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner fight in February, will look to distribute two to four PPV events in 2020, according to president of sports and entertainment programming Stephen Espinoza.
“It’s undeniable that the market is going through a lot of changes spurred in large part by technology, but proclaiming the end of PPV is premature to say the least,” he said. “The best strategy for a content owner is to make the content available on as many platforms as possible whenever and wherever the consumer wants it.”
Sports analyst Lee Berke said there’s room for In Demand and the PPV category to coexist with upstart subscription sports services in today’s multiplatform sports TV marketplace, given that both platforms offer quality content.
“Purchasing a PPV event and subscribing to a streaming service is just another way of phrasing the same concept,” he said. “Combat sports continues to have strong appeal, but you need enough fighters that are deemed to be quality fighters to maximize revenues.”
Boccardi said the streaming services actually give boxing, MMA and wrestling a boost by exposing more up and coming fighters to fans who will hopefully go on to become major PPV draws.
“I don’t think it's all a negative that you have all of these distribution outlets,” he said. “If you’re a fan of the sport, you can go and watch fighters that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”
In Demand chief technology officer John Ward said the best platform to view high-profile PPV sports content continues to be through traditional pay TV. Current technologies like voice-enabled remote controls and online ordering — as well as new technologies like 5G — will continue to enhance the PPV experience for cable viewers.
“We want to give the consumer as many options and opportunities to get the content as possible,” he said.
This story was updated on Dec. 3. Showtime will look to distribute two to four events in 2020, not 2019.