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

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.

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