SBJ/Dec. 2-8, 2013/Media

New UFC digital net to offer global cards to subscribers

The UFC will launch a new, subscription-based digital network next month that will include an expanded menu of live “Fight Night” cards from outside North America, as well as live, behind-the-scenes programming from all its events and on-demand availability of original “The Ultimate Fighter” shows developed abroad.

The as-yet-unnamed network’s first scheduled live event is a “Fight Night” card set for Jan. 4 in Singapore headlined by fourth-ranked welterweight Jake Ellenberger against former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine. Another already on tap is a March 8 card from London topped by Alexander Gustafsson, the No. 1 contender at light heavyweight, against unbeaten Jimi Manuwa.

The network, which will reside on its own URL, was driven by the UFC’s rapid overseas expansion. The promoter expects to add 16 to 20 events in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America to its schedule this year. Some of those will air as part of its deal with Fox, but at least a dozen will land on the new digital network.

The backbone of the on-demand programming will be “The Ultimate Fighter” shows developed for telecast in India, China and elsewhere, as well as an array of shows that air on UFC networks launched in Mexico and Brazil.

The UFC has not locked in a pricing model, said UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein, but its current offerings provide a window into what to expect. UFC.com offers “UFC Vault,” an on-demand product that gives fans access to its fight library for about $10 a month. The new network, to be produced by technology provider NeuLion, likely will include a similarly priced on-demand offering, along with a higher-priced option that offers live events.

“We’ve had a robust digital offering for several years with UFC Vault, but what everybody wants to see is live fights,” Epstein said. “We felt this was a unique opportunity to grow our digital offering with the content that is most precious. … If you really want to connect with fans you have to have that stand-alone digital offering that’s not just warmed over content. That’s what’s going to drive a digital network as we go forward.”

The network also eventually will replace UFC.tv as the host site for consumers who stream UFC pay-per-views rather than watching them through traditional cable or satellite services. Those “over the top” sales are more profitable than traditional sales because they eliminate the split with distributors, who typically receive about half the proceeds from each buy.

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