Ultimate Fighting Gets Web-Carriage Deal

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The beleaguered Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise received a shot in the arm from Internet distribution company PayForView.com, which will distribute the company's next three mixed-martial-arts events.

Semaphore Entertainment Group's UFC events, which have been banned by cable operators for their perceived violence, will gain some exposure and hope for decent incremental revenue from the upstart broadband-video-distribution service, beginning with a June 9 event.

"We think it's terrific for our fans," SEG vice president of corporate communications Carol Klenfner said. "We have built a fan base that has been very frustrated and unable to watch our events. Our fan base is perfect for PayForView.com."

PayForView.com executive Sid Amira said UFC would steer its devoted fans to the Internet site, which plans to distribute a number of sports, entertainment and concert events via PPV over the Internet.

"We're trying to position ourselves as a distributor of programming through the Internet," Amira said. "I think the UFC has a strong following and fans around the world who want to see it but can't."

While the UFC still distributes to a few million addressable households, most of the industry refuses to carry the events, which aren't sanctioned by any of the major state athletic associations.

But Amira said he doesn't see any problem with the mixed-martial-arts franchise, which has adopted rules to ensure the safety of its participants. "They never had any major injuries. It actually has a safety record that's better than boxing," he added.

The deal also gives PayForView.com a recognizable franchise to help build its programming content around. The distributor already has a multievent agreement with Event Entertainment to distribute the company's PPV women's-boxing events.

"The Ultimate Fighting Championship events have a large international audience, and many will be unable to view the fights on television because the broadcast will be unavailable in their area," Amira said. "The Internet crosses all borders, and we expect to be able to bring the events to a whole new audience through our Web site."

UFC owner Robert Meyrowitz expects some 300,000 subscribers per event through broadcast and Internet distribution, and he said the Internet gives the UFC access to a potential new generation of fans.

"PayForView.com is the perfect Webcast vehicle for the UFC, since it will help our fans to get access to our events," Meyrowitz said. "In addition, PayForView.com will allow for text content, merchandise and advertising to be mixed with the live video feed of our bouts. It's a unique model, which I'm confident our fans will love."

While the technology for video streaming is still inferior to cable, the Internet is expected to become a major source of income for video-content providers in the near future. Internet PPV revenue is expected to reach the $2 billion mark by 2002, according to Paul Kagan Associates Inc.

Under the terms of the deal, PayForView.com will be the exclusive Internet broadcaster for three upcoming UFC events, and it will produce and post text-based parallel content on the Web site during the live telecasts to enhance the live Webcast.

Additionally, PayForView.com will be able to market and sell UFC and related merchandise on the site during the bouts, Amira said.

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