UFC Broadcast Partner Goes Pay-Per-View And Pushes Fans To Piracy

from the yay? dept

It will not come as news to the regular Techdirt reader that the folks behind Ultimate Fighting Championship truly hate pirate streams of its fight-nights. For years now, UFC has done everything from punishing some of its own biggest fans to petitioning the government and courts to strictly block any unauthorized broadcasts. In other words, UFC's stance is that it will take any action necessary to prevent people from pirating its product.

In which case, UFC may want to have a word with at least one of its broadcast partners. BT Sport, the UFC's broadcast partner in the UK, recently made the decision to suddenly hit its subscribers with an additional pay-per-view fee to watch the bigger UFC matches. The move was met with catastrophic results.

BT Sport, the broadcasting rights owner for UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events in the UK has decided that it would be a good idea to charge its subscribers an additional fee to watch big matches. BT Sport has been offering UFC content in the UK since 2013, with the regular subscribers experiencing no weird or optional limitations. However, the company decided to take a turn this Saturday with the UFC 239 match between Jon Jones and Thiago Santos. To watch the fight, subscribers were asked for an additional “pay per view” fee of £19.95.

Instead of seeing more money flowing in, BT Sport was met with rejection as its regular subscribers decided to turn to piracy and watch the match through illicit channels. In addition to this momentary failure, BT Sport experienced subscription cancellations, as many were paying for a package only to access UFC events. Obviously, this didn’t play out the way that the broadcasting platform thought it would, and it serves as an example for all live sport streaming platforms which could be processing and evaluating such moves right now.

That this happened is useful for pointing out a number of things. For starters, it again highlights that piracy is a function of price and convenient availability. It's one thing to lock a UFC match behind a broadcast subscription, but to then slap a PPV fee on those already subscribing is obviously going to piss people off. And, more to the point, change the equation as to the price and availability of the UFC match. It should come as no surprise, then, that this pushes the public to illicit channels to watch these fights.

That said, the levels at which this occurred and were able to be reported on were significant.

According to TorrentFreak, who highlighted the incident, several pirate IPTV service providers told them that there was a noticeable spike in the demand for BT Sport content during the weekend, and this was only the beginning.

Which brings us to the next lesson that should be learned here: if a broadcaster rather cravenly looks to extract money from current customers for something it hadn't previously charged for, and for which it is providing no additional new value, the slap back from customers is going to be swift and severe.

The subscribers of BT Sport packages did what they did not only out of choice but also as part of an agreed boycott that was organized on social media platforms like Reddit. By boycotting UFC 239, the subscribers hope that they will force the broadcaster to reconsider, and take PPV charging out of their strategy in the future. This is not the case for everyone though, as some express their satisfaction with the quality of the content and the experience of consuming it on pirating platforms.

Which brings us to a third lesson that should be learned: once you push people to piracy, you might not be able to get them back. Pirating UFC fights, and many other things as well, is something of a pain in the ass. All things else being equal, people generally want to go through the proper channels for their entertainment. But all else is not equal and when people discover the low-level pain that is pirating, it may cause them to explore that avenue for all kinds of other entertainment.

All of this because BT Sport wanted to turn a previously-included sport into PPV? I would hope UFC would be discussing this with its broadcast partners, as concerned as it is about people not pirating its fights.

Filed Under: fighting, pay per view, piracy
Companies: bt, ufc


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 29 Jul 2019 @ 9:58pm

    Pushes me to what?

    What the hell is UFC?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2019 @ 10:09pm

    Dunno, but they share initials with "Ultimate Fighting Championship."

    Who, presumably, fight over something. But with what, or against whom, or or why, or in front of whom, ... I have to admit I wouldn't have the foggiest notion. If all the fighters were kidnapped by rabid pocket gophers, ... there would be more time on cable for the international underwater tiddly-wink contests.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:22am

    If someone, regardless of whether it's a content provider or broadcaster or even my landlord, wants me to pay more, just be up front with the pricing. Don't tell me me it costs $50 a month and then try and nickel and dime (or in this case I guess shilling and quid) me for more money. Putting the real price my garner fewer subscribers, but pissing off your customers when their bill is constantly higher than what you're advertising is the reason why people hate their ISPs and cable providers so much.

    But I don't think they really care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:40am

    Yes, that sounds about right - a perfect example of how people are perfectly willing to pay for the most part, but aren't willing to be openly screwed. The customer base seems like it was happy to pay for the sport, but refused to be ripped off.

    Presumably, now the industry reaction will be to complain that the sport is somehow dependent on ripping people off and they need tougher protections to allow them to do so. The idea of simply not ripping off customers who are already paying a premium won't be the default answer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:47am

    As far as i know the only big ppv events in the uk, are major boxing match,s ,And some WWE wresting events ,on Sky sports uk.
    if you want to watch all premier league soccer matchs in the uk,
    you may have to pay a subscription fee for sky sports and bt sport .
    This action encourages fans to use pirate streams to watch match,s ,
    if they cancel their subs they may never come back .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 5:10am

    Oh, my... I wonder how many of the folks watching UFC simply turn off, tuned out, and found a new hobby instead of going pirate?

    But I bet UFC claims they all went pirate...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 5:40am

      Re:

      And that is an interesting point. As far as the UFC is concerned there is no difference between a pirate and a cancellation.

      Because this is "Sharing" not "Stealing" the UFC doesn't actually have less bytes if 1 or a million people copy the big show. So obviously anyone that drops is a pirate in their eyes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 8:22pm

        Re: Re:

        And that is an interesting point. As far as the UFC is concerned there is no difference between a pirate and a cancellation.

        There is actually, and it's a pretty big one.

        Someone who pirates is still engaging with the product, and while they aren't paying now if circumstances change there's a decent chance they can be convinced to once more being a paying customer, because while they're not paying at the moment they are still interested and engaged.

        On the other hand someone who cancels entirely isn't engaging with the product at all, and is going to be much more difficult to lure back in as odds are they've shifted their attention elsewhere in the meantime.

        It's the reason I've always found the 'if you don't like the price/terms do without' idea, because between people engaging in copyright infringement and those 'doing without' the latter is actually worse for a potential seller.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 8:51pm

          someone who cancels entirely isn't engaging with the product at all, and is going to be much more difficult to lure back in as odds are they've shifted their attention elsewhere in the meantime

          Ironically, this is likely how UFC gained a sizeable segment of pro wrestling fans as an audience in the early 2000s: After WCW and ECW folded, fans who weren’t the least bit interested in WWE’s programming stopped watching wrestling altogether and started watching something else…including UFC.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 6:36am

    "The more you tighten your grip, BT, the more subscriptions will slip through your fingers."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 7:04am

    "its regular subscribers decided to turn to piracy and watch the match through illicit channels"

    Not sure how they know this. Maybe some simply did not watch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2019 @ 8:20am

    huh...

    I suppose that explains the ~3x popularity of UFC 239 on some of the piracy platforms I'm familiar with - compared to prior UFC fights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 12:12pm

    So..

    They cant find a Stadium big enough for everyone..
    Cant get the Jumbotron to work so everyone in the stadium can see something from the ZZ seats..
    And how many can afford ANY of those seats anyway..

    so we send it to Cable/Sat PPV..
    Who are already paying $80-120+ for a service that is failing..
    (how many times can you watch the same shows, swapped between channels..)
    And they want another $20..
    NOPE.. only ones to watch(like sports) is hte LAST ONES, the FINALS..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 4:43pm

    First time I've seen Dana White award a Submission of the Night (Strangled by own Dick) to the broadcaster.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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