Fans can now get easier access to the octagon and their favorite Ultimate Fighting Championship events with the Roku set-top box.
Roku and Zuffa, Inc. -- the company behind the UFC -- annnounced today a three-year partnership to bring all major UFC events to Roku set-top boxes. The UFC-Roku partnership starts with UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans on May 29, and Roku subscribers will also be able to access UFC archives, fight previews, pre-fight weigh-ins, and other insider coverage.
Roku owners will be able to access UFC content by adding the UFC channel to their Roku service, which also offers access to Netflix streaming, MLB.TV, Amazon Video on Demand, and other types of content. Pricing for Roku's UFC Channel has not yet been announced.
The UFC has been actively working to expand its audience by branching out to other media than traditional pay-per-view television for distributing its major events. UFC fights are now distributed to mobile devices through Qualcomm's FloTV, according to the Los Angeles Times, and the UFC also offers streaming access to fights on its Website.
Nevertheless, the bulk of the UFC's major event audience still comes through pay-per-view access offered through most major cable companies. The UFC is one of the most popular sporting events available on pay-per-view, and the Mixed Martial Arts presenter has even been credited with reinvigorating the aging technology. In 2007, the Associated Press reported that UFC was already equal to boxing and World Wrestling Entertainment events, the other two dominant content providers in the pay-per-view event business.
In January 2009, UFC 92 reportedly gained an estimated 1.2 million buys (people and businesses that actually purchased televised event access), which is very close to the number of buys for Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao, boxing's biggest pay-per-view event of 2008, according to NBC Sports.
While boxing and the WWE are unlikely to leave pay-per-view any time soon, you have to wonder what the long term impact will be on cable providers if the UFC branches out to more set-top boxes, gaming consoles and Internet-enabled TVs. It doesn't seem likely the UFC would turn its back on the pay-per-view audience, but the UFC clearly doesn't want to depend on traditional pay-per-view for its future.
The fact is, Internet video streaming is not yet as lucrative as traditional television contracts; however, there are signs that this is changing such as the revelation that it now costs advertisers more to place an ad on Hulu or TV.com during an episode of The Simpsons than it does on traditional television.
It will be interesting to see how UFC content access evolves over time, and whether the UFC can expand its viewer base with a variety of new distribution streams.
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