There was a story that caught my eye last week outside of the usual hype building to UFC 126. It was the lawsuit from Zuffa against Justin.TV, and other websites that show PPV events (including UFC fights) for free on the internet. It made me think off all the ways people have tried to steal what others (like us) pay for.
When I was a kid in the early 80’s, I was fascinated watching a neighbor kid make about a 1/8 inch fold into a basic index card. Then, looking like an old-time safe cracker, he inserted the index card along the upper ridge of his cable box and wiggled it around until he heard a small click. PRESTO! Free HBO and the quiet admiration of the 4 punks watching. (I still have no idea where he learned this trick, kinda like I have no clue how you learn to catch a bullet with your teeth.)
My next encounter with free cable happened a few years later when one of my buddies ordered a “black-box” from the back of a magazine. The box showed up a couple of weeks later with the funniest letter I have ever read. It was a form letter that my buddy was supposed to send to the cable company informing them he was getting EVERY pay per view show they were offering, and advising the cable company to bill him accordingly. I guess this was their way of staying in business. “Hey, we can’t make the guy mail the letter!” The black-box would be good for about 20 minutes of each hour; the remaining time would be filled with squiggly lines across the screen and lots of cussing by my buddy.
It’s no surprise that as technology got better, so would the options in trying to steal the product. It’s easy for me to tell Dana White what he should or shouldn’t do, but I wonder how many of the people watching online would buy the PPV if sites like Justin.TV were shut down.
The price tag for UFC 126 was $54.95 to see the fights in HD. As much as I love MMA, that is a lot of money. To be fair, if there was one company that should be allowed the benefit of the doubt it’s the UFC. Dana White has done an amazing job of getting good fights on free TV. This past Saturday night you could have seen 3 under card fights for free between Facebook and Spike TV. It’s hard to pay the bills if you are giving away the product for free. Think about it, when is the last time HBO and Bob Arum or Don King offered you that? I am guessing never. Still, $55.00 is a lot of dough. I am no finance major, but couldn’t the UFC offer the product for say $35.00 on PPV and still make a fat profit? It seems to me that at $35.00 you would get a lot more people to order the fight and those extra people might go a long way in off-setting the $20.00 reduction in price. Plus, you set up a podium and announce that you are the first fight promoter to make the changes necessary in these hard times to keep the fights affordable for everyone. (I know I am out of my mind, but why not throw it out there.)
Lawyers for the UFC said they were seeking arrests as fall-out from the shutting down of these sites. Good luck. As quickly as sites like Justin.TV were shut down in the US, they were right back online using web streams based overseas where the US has no control over the content. As one expert said, “You are trying to stop 1,000 leaks with two thumbs.” It’s a cat and mouse game that will continue to go one for a long, long time. You can’t blame Dana White, Top Rank, the NFL etc. for their efforts, but in the long run how effective will it be?