Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pay Per Not View

Boxing's not one of my favourite sports - watching people pummel the brain cells out of each other doesn't really appeal at a sport, but boxing is a fascinating case study for the world of commercial content.

Once upon a time major fights would be live on the BBC with Harry Carpenter commentating. You'd even get the amateur boxing bouts on Grandstand or on ITV's World of Sports.

Then came HBO in the US and Sky in the UK and gradually the fights all went onto pay TV, and audiences rapidly declined at the same time as the medical profession railed against the sport.

Then along came the internet and brave souls such as Robert Southey with SecondsOut tried to show more boxing as a pay-per-view service over the internet, only to find his service competing with pirate streams.

In the meantime, Sky has become so dominant in British sport that it has no competition. So, the tiz this week between Amir Khan's management and Sky highlights why more thought should be given to the dominance of a few major media players in our lives. Khan's fight was meant to be pay-per-view. This is where sports fans are asked to pay twenty quid on top of their monthly forty quid or so to watch a bout (well, they get to watch what in boxing is called a 'card'). But, for whatever reason, Sky didn't think this was a goer and decided to put it onto Sky Sports3. This meant potentially much higher viewing, but a lower payday for the champ. So, his team took the bout onto an obscure PPV channel called Primtime.

The reality is that the scale of piracy for live events like this is so great now that pay-per-view is almost over as a commercial concept even for broadcast TV.

This is yet another example of the creeping erosion in the values of video content. Yet no one is doing anything about it. Today it may be boxing, tomorrow it might be football.