Spike TV and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) just launched Ultimatefighter.com, a site that features every single episode of the last 10 seasons of The Ultimate Fighter. It offers fans the option of watching just the fights without any of the trash talking, and each and every fight is annotated, making it possible to skip straight to key moves and moments. The site also features exclusive content not aired on TV, but won’t carry any episodes of upcoming season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter — which is scheduled to start this weekend — until it’s aired in its entirety on Spike TV.
Erik Flannigan, EVP of digital media for MTV Networks, which counts Spike among its portfolio of channels, told me today during a phone conversation that this release window is part of Spike’s strategy to treat The Ultimate Fighter as an outcome-based reality show that is enjoyed best on TV. Flannigan also said that the window helps to bridge the off-season gap, but added that Spike could possibly add live streams of UFC fights to Ultimatefighter.com in the future.
Flannigan compared The Ultimate Fighter to Comedy Central hits like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, explaining that all of these formats have dedicated audiences and huge back catalogs that can’t be entirely monetized through DVD and download sales. Ad-supported content and ownership models could coexist, he said, but sales are just part of the picture for many Viacom properties. “You’re not gonna buy a box set of season 10 of the Daily Show,” he mused. “That just doesn’t make sense.”
Viacom made headlines recently when it pulled the Daily Show and the Colbert Report off of Hulu in favor of its own online destinations, a move that the media giant said was the result of being unsatisfied with the ad revenue it received from the online video sites. Flannigan told me today that his company is going to continue to look at distribution partnerships, but that it just makes more sense to have vertical sites for properties like The Ultimate Fighter, if only for the reason that some features won’t translate well to third-party sites. He cited as an example the annotation of Ultimatefighter.com, saying “It would be hard for someone to replicate (those features) somewhere else.”
Asked about the impact piracy is having on sports franchises like the UFC, Flannigan acknowledged that people dedicated enough would always be able to pirate content, be it via BitTorrent or other means. He didn’t think that live-streaming piracy was currently as big an issue for Spike TV as it might be for pay-per-view events, but he said Spike was open to exploring other ways to offer fans access to content. “Live events could easily be part of what we do in the future,” Flannigan told me, “just not in the present.”
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