Thursday, October 1, 2020

Will The Decision To Do Pay-Per-View During The COVID-19 Epidemic Prove To Be Good Or Bad?


It is rare when taking about a Boxing card that is aired on pay-per-view not to hear criticism of the card itself. More often than not you will hear fans and experts alike criticize a particular fight or what they feel should have taken place. When one also factors into the equation that such criticisms also include the consumer only being offered a small portion of what takes place on a full Boxing card for what is often an expensive price tag, it is not hard to understand such criticism.


In the case of the recent pay-per-view doubleheader that was marketed as “Two Pay-Per-View Cards In One” featuring twin brothers Jermall and Jermell Charlo headlining separate portions of the card, there was not criticism of the fights that were scheduled on the six bout pay-per-view card, but rather most if not all criticism stemmed from the decision by broadcaster Showtime and its parent company ViacomCBS as well as the Premier Boxing Champions group of promoters to put the event on cable/satellite pay-per-view and to do so at a price point of $74.95.


It should not be a secret to longtime readers that this observer has long been critical of the pay-per-view model that has over the last two decades gotten out of control in terms of pricing, but one that also rarely has the consumer’s interest in mind in terms of the amount of content that is offered on a per card basis for increasingly expensive prices. The criticism in this case differs from the norm in that the decision to put not only this card, but also additional cards promoted by the PBC group of promoters on pay-per-view in the coming weeks and months comes in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic and recession. An epidemic that has caused sickness and death around the world, but one that has resulted in significant job loss in the United States as well.


While the general trend of pay-per-view Boxing attractions has consistently underperformed over the years with rare exceptions due largely to the price points in this observer’s eyes more so than a mere lack of interest from fans/consumers, it is also important to keep in mind that the cable/satellite industry, which was already in decline prior to the COVID-19 as consumers opt to switch to digital streaming platforms and away from traditional pay-TV providers, have only seen their subscriber-base continuing to erode as the epidemic has increased its impact.


In terms of Boxing, it should also not be ignored that the rise of digital subscription-based streaming networks DAZN and ESPN+ have provided a legitimate alternative to traditional pay-per-view distribution as well as offering an economically reasonable option for consumers. Although for the time being the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) MMA promotion sells their pay-per-view events through ESPN+’s platform exclusively in the United States at a similar price point to when those events were available on cable/satellite pay-per-view, those events are made available on delay for existing ESPN+ subscribers weeks after they take place and the pricing of those events are used to sell annual subscription plans for ESPN+ for non-subscribers. 


Why should that be taken into consideration? Because it shows that the pay-per-view model as it once was is no longer a viable option, especially when one also factors in that events are available on demand for subscribers to watch when they wish shortly after an event takes place, whereas with traditional pay-per-view, most events produced by a network like Showtime will only get one live showing as was the case with the Charlo Doubleheader pay-per-view event last week. While in some cases, there may be an immediate replay aired shortly after a live showing, it is not a standard and that in addition to the pricing structure and more economically reasonable alternatives being available only adds to the hurdles that promoters and networks face in a pay-per-view being successful in addition to the dwindling subscriber numbers, which obviously limits the potential audience for events broadcast on cable/satellite pay-per-view.


Although it may sound to the reader that yours truly is deliberately pointing out the negative aspects of pay-per-view, I am doing so for a reason. There are alternatives available that could benefit networks, promoters, and the fighters themselves. The most obvious of those alternatives would be to adapt a digital subscription model similar to that of ESPN+ and DAZN.


In previewing the Charlo Doubleheader pay-per-view, I pointed out one alternative that was/is already available to ViacomCBS seeing as the pay-per-view was being broadcast by the company’s-owned Showtime. CBS All Access.


 CBS All Access, a digital streaming network platform that CBS launched in 2014 has been a main focal point for the network as it looks to increase its presence in the digital streaming market. As of February last year, the streaming platform had an estimated four million subscribers paying either $9.99 per month for a plan that does not include commercials on on-demand content or $5.99 for a plan that includes limited ads on such content.


Although it is debatable as to how many of CBS All Access’ subscriber-base are fans of Boxing or sports in general as the platform is aimed at the general entertainment genre, a potential reach of that many subscribers is a number that very few pay-per-view events have even come close to.


It is also worth noting that the platform, which has begun incorporating other ViacomCBS-owned content from it’s various networks as the company looks to rebrand CBS All Access to Paramount+ next year, which will include everything currently featured on the platform plus additional content, could have used a Boxing card like this as a way to attract new subscribers while continuing to expand their evolving content which also recently included the addition of UEFA Men’s and Women’s Champions League Soccer among other content.


While it also needs to be noted that this card was made available to non-cable/satellite consumers at the same pay-per-view price point through Showtime's standalone streaming app as well as through Live TV streaming platforms aimed as an alternative/replacement to traditional pay-TV service like cable/satellite, like Sling TV, it is debatable whether consumers that have “Cut The Cord” will be willing to embrace paying the same type of pay-per-view prices that are available through traditional television providers given that the main selling point of becoming what is known as a “Cord Cutter” and going with only streaming as their preferred method of accessing television is to save money.


Although it is unclear as of this writing as to how well the Charlo Doubleheader did in terms of overall buys and does not include the added element of those who access content via piracy in various forms, all of the above are things that networks and promoters who insist on sticking with an outdated model of pay-per-view are going to have to keep in mind.


With COVID-19 continuing to impact the world in numerous and severe ways, there simply is no way that a model that was already in decline prior to a global epidemic will be boosted or even saved during said epidemic whose impact no one knows the severity of as of yet. Unfortunately, without a willingness to adapt to changing times and conditions or a willingness to adjust price points that are more economically reasonable, a network or promoter should not expect successful returns regardless of who is on the card. It’s a shame for the fans who support the sport tirelessly in good times and bad who unfortunately are being priced out of being able to see fights they want to see, but even more of a shame for the fighters who risk their lives every time they compete that are trying to raise their profile and standing in the sport that are being denied the chance to compete in front of as many eyes as possible.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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