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Volume 20 No. 42
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Rugby World Cup digital subs bring in more than $750K

With a week still remaining in its coverage of rugby’s World Cup, U.S. rights holder Universal Sports has raked in more than $750,000 on digital subscriptions for the event, making it one of the most profitable programming ventures in the young cable channel’s history.

Universal Sports, which is owned by InterMedia Partners, has sold close to 5,000 broadband, pay-per-view packages for $150 each, which have delivered the bulk of the revenue from the World Cup. It also has broadcast games on its network and shown two games on NBC. The combination of the broadband sales and advertising sales for telecasts has turned the World Cup into a profitable venture for the network, said David Sternberg, Universal Sports president.

“It’s also opened our network up to a whole new set of viewers and shown our cable and satellite distributor partners the value of the network we have,” Sternberg said.

Universal Sports acquired the rights to rugby’s World Cup in June 2010. The tournament, which began in New Zealand in early September and ends Sunday, featured 48 matches that were streamed online and 38 matches that were sold to bars and homes on pay-per-view. Universal Sports showed the opening ceremony and seven matches live and used the rights to drive its best month of Web traffic since 2009, delivering 926,000 unique visitors and 1.7 million video streams.

The matches are held from midnight to 4 a.m. ET, and Sternberg expects those numbers will rise considerably when the rugby World Cup is held in 2015 in England, which has a more favorable time zone. He hopes that by then Universal Sports has more distribution and can offer more live games on its network.

Universal Sports recently changed its distribution strategy. It previously used an over-the-air strategy that allowed it to provide the channel to consumers free of charge. It’s now converting to a traditional cable channel that seeks subscriber fees from cable and satellite operators.

It struck its first distribution deal with DirecTV last summer and is available in 40 million homes. It’s running an “I Want Universal Sports” marketing campaign to help it increase its distribution.

Universal Sports has also put its digital video behind a pay wall and cut about 10 percent of its costs.