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Pay-per-view (often abbreviated PPV) provides a service by which a television audience can purchase events to view via private telecast of that event to (say) their homes. The broadcaster shows the event at the same time to everyone ordering it (as opposed to video-on-demand systems, which allow viewers to see the recorded broadcast at any time). Events can be purchased using an on-screen guide, an automated telephone system, or through a live customer service representative. Events often include feature films, sporting events, pornographic movies and "special" events.

United States

The Zenith Phonevision system became the first pay-per-view system tested in the United States of America. Developed in 1949, it used telephone lines to take and receive orders as well as to de-scramble a broadcast signal. Phonevision field-tests ran for 90 days in Chicagomarker. In 1950, Skiatron tested its Subscriber-Vision system on WORmarker in New York Citymarker. The system used IBM punch cards to de-scramble a signal broadcast during the broadcast station's "off-time". Both systems showed promise, but the FCC denied them permits.

One of the earliest pay-per-view systems on cable, the Optical Systems Channel 100, first saw service in 1972 in San Diegomarker through Mission Cable(acquired by Cox Communications) and TheaterVisioN, which operated out of Sarasota, Floridamarker. These early systems quickly went out of business, as the cable industry adopted satellite technology and as flat-rate systems like Home Box Office became popular.

Pay-per-view first became popular when the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers began using the system after winning the championship in the 1977 season.It operated through a few pay-TV services such as Z Channel, SelecTV, and ON-TV in select markets throughout the 1980s.

The first major pay-per-view event occurred on September 16, 1981, when Sugar Ray Leonard fought Thomas "Hitman" Hearns for the Welterweight Championship. Viacom Cablevision in Nashville, Tennesseemarker, the first system to offer the event, sold over fifty percent of its subscribers for the fight. Leonard visited Nashville to promote the fight, and the event proved such a success that Viacom themed its annual report for that year around it. Viacom's Marketing Director was Pat Thompson who put together the fight and subsequently put together additional PPV fights, wrestling matches, and even a Broadway play.

After leaving Viacom, Thompson became head of Sports View and produced the first pay-per-view football game on October 16, 1983: Tennessee versus Alabama from Birmingham, Alabamamarker. Sports View played a role in building pay-per-view networks and became the early pioneer in developing TigerVision for LSU, TideVision for Alabama, and UT Vol Seat for Tennessee. Sports View also produced the Ohio State-Michigan Football game on PPV in November 1983.

In 1985, the first U.S. cable channels devoted to pay-per-view, Viewer's Choice, Cable Video Store, and Request TV began operation within days of each other. Viewer's Choice serviced both home satellite-dish and cable customers, while Request TV, though broadcasting to cable viewers, would not become available to dish-owners until the 1990s.

The term "pay-per-view" did not come into general use until the 1990s when companies like iN DEMAND, HBO, and Showtime started using the system to show movies and some of their productions. In Demand would show movies, concerts, and other events, with prices ranging from $3.99 to $49.99, while HBO and Showtime, with their leg TVKO and SET Pay Per View, would offer championship boxing with prices ranging from $14.99 to $54.99.

ESPN has shown college football and basketball games on pay-per-view. The boxing undercard Latin Fury, shown on June 28 2003, became ESPN's first boxing pay-per-view card and also the first pay-per-view boxing card held in Puerto Rico. Pay-per-view has provided a revenue stream for professional wrestling companies like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), Ring of Honor (ROH) and Asistencia Asesoría y Administración.

In the United States pay-per-view broadcasters transmit without advertisements, unlike almost all other broadcasters.


In 2006 HBO generated 3,700,000 pay-per-view buys with $177,000,000 in gross sales. The only year with more buys previously, 1999, had a total of 4,000,000. However, the record fell in 2007 when HBO sold 4,800,000 PPV buys with $255,000,000 in sales.

But 1999 differed radically from 2006. 1999 saw De La Hoya-Trinidad (1,400,000 buys), Holyfield-Lewis I (1,200,000), Holyfield-Lewis II (850,000), and De La Hoya-Quartey (570,000). By contrast, only one pay-per-view mega-fight took place in 2006: De La Hoya-Mayorga (925,000 buys). Rahman-Maskaev bombed with under 50,000. The other eight PPV cards last year all fell in the 325,000-450,000 range. Pay-per-view fights in that range almost always generate more money for the promoter and fighters than HBO wants to pay for an HBO World Championship Boxing license-fee.

In May 2007, the Oscar De La Hoya VS Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight on HBO PPV became the biggest-selling non-heavyweight title fight, with a little more then 2.5 million buyers. The fight itself generated roughly $134.4 million dollars in domestic PPV revenue, making it the most lucrative prizefight of all time. In December 2007 the Floyd Mayweather Jr. VS Ricky Hatton fight appeared on-track to sell well over 900,000 PPV buys, .

The leading PPV attraction, Oscar De La Hoya, has sold approximately 12.8 million units in total, giving $612 million in domestic television receipts. In third place in buys, Evander Holyfield has achieved 12.6 million units ($543 million); and in second, Mike Tyson has reached 12.4 million units ($545 million).

HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg calls the expansion of pay-per-view "the biggest economic issue in boxing" and says:

"I can't tell you that pay-per-view helps the sport because it doesn't. It hurts the sport because it narrows our audience, but it's a fact of life. Every time we try to make an HBO World Championship Boxing fight, we're up against mythical pay-per-view numbers. HBO doesn't make a lot of money from pay-per-view. There's usually a cap on what we can make. But the promoters and fighters insist on pay-per-view because that's where their greatest profits lie."

"It's a big problem," Greenburg continues. "It's getting harder and harder to put fighters like Manny Pacquiao on HBO World Championship Boxing. If Floyd Mayweather beats Oscar, he might never fight on HBO World Championship Boxing again. But if HBO stopped doing pay-per-view, the promoters would simply do it on their own [like Bob Arum did with Cotto-Malignaggi in June 2006] or find someone else who will do it for them."

Former HBO Sports President Seth Abraham concurs, saying, "I think, if Lou (DiBella) and I were still at HBO, we'd be in the same pickle as far as the exodus of fights to pay-per-view is concerned."

UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship)

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a relative newcomer on the pay-per-view scene, "matched the once-dominant World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. in pay-per-view revenues during 2006 and surpassed boxing titan HBO. The three companies make up the bulk of the pay-per-view business." According to Deana Myers, a senior analyst at Kagan Research LLC (which tracks the PPV industry), "UFC has reinvigorated the pay-per-view category."


In Canadamarker, Viewers Choice offers pay-per-view services through various Canadian satellite TV and digital cable television-providers, including Rogers Digital Cable, Shaw Direct, and MTS. Prices range from C$5.99 (for movies) up to $20 or more for special events. Bell TV delivers its own pay-per-view service, Vu!, to its satellite subscribers. Prices range from $4.99 up to $20 or more for special events. It also runs Venus, an adult pay-per-view service, to its satellite subscribers for $9.99 per movie.



In November 2008 pay-per-view scheduled its debut in Albania through Digitalb with the channel DigiGold.

United Kingdom

Viewers in the United Kingdom can access pay-per-view via satellite, cable and over-the-internet television services, mainly for films - with services such as Sky Box Office. Broadcasters (most notably PremPlus) have largely abandoned their aspirations to introduce PPV into the sports market due to poor take-up; it carries only occasional boxing matches and half of the WWE PPV events, with the other half shown for free on Sky Sports.

Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

Foxtel introduced pay-per-view direct to home television in Australia and New Zealand in the early 2000s. Sky Pacific started a service in Fiji and in other Pacific Island nations in 2006.


In Malaysiamarker, Astro's Astro Box Office service launched in 2000 in the form of the free-to-air "Astro Showcase".

See also


  1. FCC Squares Off to Face Subscription TV Dilemma", Broadcasting-Telecasting, November 15, 1954, p31-32
  2. Pay-Per-View
  4. Credit ESPN Boxing: link needs updating
  5. Credit SecondsOut:
  6. "Extreme fight on for pay-per-view crown" Adam Goldman, Associated Press, Feb 28 2007,

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