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Volume 26 No. 7
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Turner's Levy Happy With Tiger-Phil Despite Lifting Paywall

Turner drew 750,000 unique video views for the Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods match
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Turner President David Levy said he was happy with last week's Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods match and expects to produce similar ones, despite a glitch that caused Turner to make the PPV free -- potentially wiping away as much as $10M in revenue. "We are in this for the long haul," he said. "We don't have all the facts and figures, but based on early indications, total audience for the match surpassed expectations across all of our platforms." Turner logged 750,000 unique video views and 55 million minutes consumed on B/R Live for "The Match." "And that’s just B/R Live," Levy said. "That does not include our pay-per-view distribution partners." The company paid upwards of $10M in August for the rights to carry the event, much of which was going to be recouped through the $19.99 PPV price tag. When the match started on Friday, many viewers were unable to log in and view the stream, causing Turner to take the extraordinary step of dropping the paywall entirely. "This all boils down to really insufficient memory, server capacity that was required, and the high volume of consumer access requests in a condensed amount of time," Levy said. "Try to do this during Black Friday with Amazon’s cloud with everybody online ordering stuff." Levy said that his company did not expect to make revenue solely from PPV sales. It also sold sponsorships to companies like Capital One, Audi, Rolex and AT&T. "All the sponsors want to come back," he said. "They all were extremely happy with the event and the coverage."

DAMAGE CONTROL: Levy said he first heard about potential problems during the pre-show. By the time Mickelson and Woods were on the third hole, Levy realized how big the problem was. "We have always, as a company, looked at the consumer first," Levy said. "If we really believe in that mantra, when we were having these problems we made a decision for the franchise, for the consumers, for our brands, to open up this window and let down the paywall. Did we know it was going to cost some revenue opportunity? Absolutely. But that’s not why we did it. This is for the long haul. All of our business is about thinking about where we’re going to take this opportunity. We now have a proven formula that works. That’s something we wanted to protect." Levy said that his tech team was working to fix the problems in order to collect the $19.99 payment from as many viewers as possible. "We would fix one problem on one platform and another one would have some challenges," Levy said. "It just made sense to keep it open and take the consequences that goes with it."

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE: Levy said he is committed to this format. "You now have a franchise that you can use in many different ways," he said. "It's a little early to say what we’re going to do next. Certainly, Tiger and Phil would like to have conversations. So would I. I don't think you have to keep this just to golf. This is something that could be used for other sports and other competitions. We now have a new model. If you put a compelling event together, people are willing to pay for it." Based on the number of people that pre-ordered the event, Levy said that the $19.99 price tag worked. "We're going to learn from this," he said. "We're going to do a lot of due diligence to make it better. It demonstrated to me a number of innovative steps in presenting a live sporting event. It was the first time ever that you integrated some gambling elements into this -- predictive data and proprietary data. This was unprecedented in television."

WHAT'S BEING SAID: The Match was a big topic of discussion on ESPN's afternoon talk shows yesterday, though not much being said was kind. Tony Kornheiser on "PTI" called it a "bad broadcast,” noting on the “few occasions that Tiger and Phil were actually talking to each other -- because they don't do that -- the people in the booth were talking over them." He suggested that Charles Barkley should have gotten out of the "dopey set he was on" in order to "walk the course with them and chat them up all the way around." Jackie MacMullan on "Around The Horn" called the event an "unmitigated disaster," noting it was "too little, too late for both guys." She said, "If you're going to play a straight golf match, why are people going to tune in and pay?" Israel Gutierrez noted there is "not enough weight between any two other golfers to make this a real pay-per-view event." He said, "If some sort of rivalry develops in golf, whether it be Rory (McIlroy) and Jordan Spieth or anything like that, then maybe while they're still in their prime, you do this.” Sarah Spain offered some suggestions for future version of the event, saying, "Maybe you get an LPGA and a PGA player together versus other ones. Maybe you’ve got a Ryder Cup, but even more fun situations. More side bets, trick shots, all that stuff."