When Gervonta “Tank” Davis defends his WBA lightweight title against Rolando Romero on Saturday night at Barclays Center, fans will be able to order the Showtime pay-per-view event a few different ways—via their local cable or satellite provider, through the Showtime mobile app, through Sony PlayStation’s platform or on PPV.com, the new streaming PPV platform from In Demand.
In Demand’s introduction of an over-the-top (OTT) solution to supplement its cable and satellite infrastructure reflects the exponential growth in digital consumption of transactional programming that has occurred over the last 30 months. But to Premier Boxing Champions (PBC), the fight’s promoter, In Demand’s decision to embrace digital delivery represents an opportunity to incrementally grow pay-per-view event sales figures.
Bruce Binkow, president of Integrated Sports Marketing (the exclusive sales, marketing and operations agency for PBC), sees digital buys as being “predominantly additive” to the existing cable and satellite audience. He believes there is a percentage of digital-first fans who have or will embrace PPV.com, or the PPV.com mobile apps, who were not previously purchasing events through another streaming platform.
JWS’ Take: In Demand has primarily operated as business-to-business enterprise for the first 35-plus years of its existence, so the company has flown under the average sports fan’s radar. But if you have ever purchased video-on-demand or a PPV event with a remote through a set-top cable box, you have likely engaged with its service.
The current iteration of In Demand was created in 1998 as a joint venture between Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership, TCI, Cox Communications, Comcast and MediaOne. The company was formed after a merger of Viewer’s Choice and Request Television, the two biggest domestic pay-per-view providers, with Viewer’s Choice ultimately rebranding to In Demand in 2000. Currently, it’s owned by Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications.
The JV Serves as a transactional content aggregator and licensor. “We do programming deals with all of the movie studios, sports leagues, promoters, etc…, and then we distribute that content to our owners and all of our non-owner affiliates,” said Mark Boccardi, the SVP of programming and marketing for In Demand and PPV.com. Today the company serves more than 150 TV operators across North America and reaches more than 80 million cable and satellite homes. By aligning with In Demand, rights owners can gain access to all those households without having to sign a distribution deal with each individual operator.
Sports fans have historically purchased transactional programming (think: boxing matches, pro wrestling PPVs) through their cable, telephone company or satellite provider. The distribution universe expanded roughly a decade ago with “the first dabbling of streaming pay-per-view,” according to Boccardi. But the average fan was not yet ready to embrace OTT technology. “What we saw was, in general, the percentage of overall buys [for any individual event] was very small. One, two percent,” Boccardi said.
That slowly started to change over the next half decade. By 2017 and ’18, PBC started to see “the percentage of digital buys on both the Fox Sports app and Showtime app increasing fight to fight,” Binkow said. The steady growth indicated to the promoter that the fans wanted to conveniently consume content. “It was in [PBC’s] best interest to deliver content as ubiquitously as possible,” Binkow said.
In Demand’s backers did not see it that way—yet. The percentage of digital buys for any given event was still around the 10% range, and their focus was still largely on the core cable businesses.
The turning point came in February 2020, when the industry saw digital buys jump from no more than 15% to 50% of the overall pay-per-view revenue for Fury-Wilder II. “We knew the time was right to launch our streaming service and bring those customers into the In Demand fold,” Boccardi said.
In Demand subsequently embarked on an 18-month process to deliver fans a digital option. It formally introduced PPV.com last Dec. 4 with an international soccer match. Since that time, In Demand has delivered 20 other PPV sporting events. Roughly 40% of the aggregate buys across all of them (think: all distribution platforms) were digital in nature, seemingly validating the decision to embrace streaming.
As a fight content provider, PBC does not care how fans purchase an event—just that they do. But Binkow believes digital purchases, which now comprise nearly 50% of all PBC’s PPV buys, are “predominantly additive and not cannibalizing the traditional cable or satellite buyer.” As evidence, he pointed to the traditional cable buy numbers, which continue to “hold their own.”
Boccardi theorized that’s because digital buyers tend to be part of a “new, younger demo that has grown up consuming entertainment online, and they feel very comfortable paying for content online.” Those younger fans may not even have cable to begin with.
To be clear, fight fans were able to buy PBC’s PPV events digitally prior to last December. The Showtime app, the Fox Sports app, Sony PlayStation, Fite.tv and YouTube have all distributed shows on their respective platforms at one time or another. But Binkow said In Demand’s expansion into digital distribution was still a meaningful development for future sales growth.
“In Demand is the unequivocal leader in the delivery of pay-per-view content,” Binkow said. “They are the big dog. They have not only been around the longest, they have the biggest footprint, the most expertise… and [they] represent a huge part of the potential business for us. So, it’s terrific to see them embracing a digital extension.”
While some potential/future PPV.com customers may migrate from one of the other digital platforms referenced (the personalized, interactive experience could be a differentiator for some), there is a belief PPV.com will increase the size of the potential buyer universe by making content discovery easier. Prior to its emergence, a digital-first consumer might not know where to watch a PPV event and thus pass on buying it. “Our greatest asset is our name,” Boccardi said. (It is worth noting In Demand sat on the domain for more than two decades before putting it to use late last year.)
In Demand’s ability to deliver PPV content across cable, satellite and digital platforms, something no other company can offer, makes it an attractive partner for rights. In addition to PBC, AEW and DAZN are among the fight-sports properties that leverage In Demand’s platform to maximize sales. But you won’t find events promoted by WWE or UFC sold across the company’s various channels; those promoters have exclusive PPV distribution deals in place with subscription streaming services (UFC with ESPN+, WWE with Peacock).