In an exclusive interview with our correspondent Brendan Galbraith, David McConachie, Managing Director of Primetime TV - the newly formed channel which brought Carl Froch v Andre Dirrell live to UK screens via a PPV model - gives some fascinating insights into the trials and tribulations of bringing big money fights to the British public...
The mantra of experienced industrialists during tough economic times is to adapt and innovate to renew your products, services or business model. In the boxing game, the latter got a makeover when the Super Six tournament was initiated. Whether that was prompted by economic conditions or a desire to address regular complaints about poor matchmaking and the alphabet belts etc, is open to interpretation. The important thing is that when the Super Six tournament was announced it instantly stirred up excited anticipation amongst fight fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
This was not surprising, as the business model contained an eclectic mix of pull factors including: genuine 50-50 match-ups – two genuine world title holders, two ex-world title champions and two unbeaten prospects with Olympic medals. Also, throw into the drama, the prospect of three Europeans versus three Americans with home and away bouts. In short, this is win-win for the punters, fighters, promoters and the broadcasters. Well, initially, was for the USA (Dirrell, Ward, Taylor), Germany (Abraham) and Denmark (Kessler), but what about the UK (Froch)?
Despite hearing some noises of talks between Hennessy and several channels, the harsh reality was that two weeks prior to the launch of the Super Six, a broadcaster had still not picked up the rights to show it on British TV. British fight fans were dismayed and made their voices heard on radio phone-ins and across the internet on various boxing sites, not least on the BoxRec forum.
And spare a thought for Britain’s representative in the Super Six, Carl Froch. Here is a genuine world title holder who had, at that stage, prevailed in two tough defences of his title - the last one to Jermain Taylor was disgracefully, not televised live by any British channel. So, why was this innovative business model - the Super Six, deemed to make commercial sense by broadcasters in Germany, Denmark and the USA - was seemingly unpalatable for their British counterparts?
To do that question some justice, would require a more in-depth synthesis of key broader issues. Instead, we focus on the embryonic channel that stepped into the breach at the eleventh hour to restore choice to the boxing fans – Primetime TV.
Primetime TV is a joint venture between Portland TV and Queensbury Media and was only formed less than two weeks before their opening acts of Dirrell v Froch and Abraham v Taylor. If things had have worked out differently, Primetime could have emerged much earlier and debuted with the Froch v Taylor fight. That is just one of the several exclusives that were reported to BoxRec News when they spoke to the executive charged with leading this challenging new project - the affable David McConachie, Managing Director of Primetime TV. Other revelations are that Primetime’s inaugural event was a commercial success, even though nine times more viewers watched it than actually paid for it. Hence, the contentious subject of illegal streaming features in the interview as does the status negotiations for upcoming fights such as Kessler v Ward and Froch v Kessler and much more.
I am happy to report that the actual telephone interview with David McConachie was very open and cordial and, the more it continued the more I was convinced that I was talking to a genuine, fellow boxing fan. This impression was emphatically confirmed at the end of the interview when David stated, “I am hoping that down the line that fight fans will be able to watch almost any world title fight that they want to on Primetime. That is my personal dream, whether my partners agree with that remains to be seen.”
Yes, a television executive who is a boxing fan is definitely a good thing. Better still, [and as you will read below] David McConachie is a boxing fan with an excellent commercial grounding in the business of boxing and television. Fight fans and promoters will welcome some of the ideas that Primetime are commercially appraising, for example, how about a monthly subscription for up to four live shows per month?
Below is the full interview with David McConachie.
I understand you have a background in boxing?
My whole life is boxing. When you go back to the really early days. My father was the executive producer at London Weekend Television; he did all of the big fights for ITV London Weekend, going back to Tyson in the 80’s, and all that sort of stuff. My first job back in 1987 was working for Frank Warren and I worked with him for a number of years, selling his fights - I was his Press Officer many, many moons ago. I own KA TV, the production company in Southampton which produces shows that were recently on Channel 4 and they are sold worldwide into 50 or 60 different countries. I handle the television rights to the World Boxing Amateur Boxing Championships and work with various promoters around the world in selling their fights to broadcasters.
Why did you get involved in setting up Primetime TV?
There have been a lot of fights for the past couple of years that have not got onto British TV. We elected to go by PPV because it is a much more efficient business model than trying to set up a complete channel. So Primetime can go on and off air ad hoc according to the event. It is not a boxing channel, it is not even a sports channel - we plan to do other stuff. It became clear when Carl Froch fought Jermain Taylor, a big fight like that could not get on British TV and we tried to see if we could get something going for that and didn’t have enough time. Then, of course the Super Six came along and that was the catalyst and made us launch, probably ahead of schedule, but we launched nonetheless.
So the business model isn’t only boxing, but you will look at other markets?
Exactly. Other sports events, comedy, whatever it is going to be, whatever we identify that people may want to buy a ticket for we will air it.
Are you thinking along the lines of a subscription/season ticket or a PPV services?
A season ticket is something we considering, we just have to weigh up what we think the demand might be compared to the costs of acquiring the fights. It is something that I am quite keen on, but whether it happens or not remains to be seen. But, I like the idea of offering a season ticket to boxing fans, who know they are going to get great boxing on a regular basis?
Are you thinking along the lines of having, not only Hennessy fights but also working with other promoters, possibly domestic small hall fights and some of the bigger shows?
Definitely - we will talk to any promoters. As to small hall shows, on an ad hoc basis, they are not really PPV events. I don’t think the demand would be big enough to justify going and recording and putting on a screen. I don’t think there are enough people who would want to pay even £5 for that. We could be wrong. But we are going to be trying a variety of different models to try and find out what works. The truth is, nobody really knows. We know that the big events work, that much is for sure. To be fair the big, big events end up on Sky, they have got strong marketing - it is hard to compete with that. So, we are probably looking at the next tier down.
Ok, where I was coming from with the small events was that perhaps, in time, if you were thinking of introducing a season ticket or a monthly charge, would perhaps offer a combination of one big PPV and maybe some small hall events. Would that be something that you would look at?
Absolutely right, it would be. What we would need to work out is that, for example, is there 50,000 people out there over time that would want to pay £5, £6 or £7 per month? And perhaps get four live events per month and perhaps a series of interesting show to boot.
As far as going forward, I understood that this was very much a trial to test the market. Is it something that you can see Primetime continuing to do for the next six months or twelve months or is it still, very much a ‘wait and see’ one PPV card at a time?
I don’t think so. We were encouraged by the results and we are pleased with the show we put out, given the timeframe that we had, we think we put out an entertaining show. Certainly, we viewed the event as a success.
There have been some crazy figures bandied about on various online sites, some people were speculating that the show did 1200 people, which I personally thought were laughable…
(This causes David Mc Conachie to laugh!) We took that as someone making a joke, because a lot of people said ‘Oh my God!' Somebody could have put down 1.2 million and people would have believed that. No, no, that was just absolutely crazy.
Could you reveal ball park figures of last weekend’s event?
I am afraid that I am unable, as I am not allowed to. But the figures were big enough to make it a success.
That is good, that is encouraging.
Yeah, we were really encouraged and we are not even on the Virgin platform yet. Once, we get onto Virgin and possibly Top-Up TV, you make the market even bigger and the numbers get even bigger.
So, will you be on Top-Up TV and Virgin for the next event?
Yes, definitely. Talks are happening at the moment on that. But to go back to that 1263 (laughs when he says the number!) that some people talk about, that was just some people making a joke. I don’t know how they got that - it was a ridiculous number. We did more than that (1263) online, with no marketing.
Primetime had the last show available, not only on TV, but also via an online stream. Is that something that you will continue?
Yes, I think it is a possibility as we got good results on the stream. We were aware that a lot of people were upset that it wasn’t on Virgin. I don’t think people fully understand how difficult and how long it takes to get on various platforms. I think Virgin subscribers felt a bit hard done by, but of course it was in our interests and Mick Hennessy’s interests to be on Virgin. It just couldn’t be done in time. But the online thing is interesting. That said, if we are on Virgin, on Sky, on Top-up, you know the online thing is kind of just an add for those who do not have those services. It is not a core part of the business, by any stretch of the imagination. That said it is inexpensive to do - to add a stream.
A challenge for all sports broadcasters is the amount of illegal streaming that takes place. Do you think that this has a significant impact?
Huge impact. It has an absolute huge impact. Users - handing out the password and username, pirated even our stream. Unfortunately, we rushed it to market. So somebody with a username and password was able to give it out to their mates and they could all watch it for the one price. In fact, 900% more people watched it than actually paid for it. Which was a really interesting statistic. So even our own customers were pirating and giving it to their mates. You know nine times more people watched than actually paid for it. That was an interesting stat. We knew there was going to be pirating. We largely ignored it this time, we didn’t have time to get policing, but in future we know who the culprits are and we will be stamping down on it and taking legal action.
For the Froch v Dirrell fight, customers had to connect their telephone extension line to their Sky box in order to view the fight. Is that something that you want to try and eradicate for the next show?
I am not totally technical. I know that a few who bought it, did not have their telephone line connected, that causes issues because then the card cannot be de-crypted. Some people don’t connect the telephone line, as they are not buying PPVs or whatever it is. That is a message that we did try and get across. We feel that we didn’t get it across well enough, despite the fact that it was on the website, etc etc. That did cause issues.
But just to explain the process. With any new channel, whether it is Setanta, an Arts Channel or a Film Channel, there is a one-off fee to register. That doesn’t go to Primetime, but to a call centre. So, whenever you do a PPV, if it is £10.95, for example. Over £2.50 in costs is going to the call centre and also to Sky. You have to pay Sky a fee to allow that card to receive that picture. Then you have to take VAT off, then the promoter gets his share, the channel gets their share. So there are quite a lot of costs that come out. However, once you are registered. The next time you have an event, all you have got to do is literally click your remote control and order the event and it is done automatically. For the first few events, while you are getting new subscribers to register. There is an additional cost - because there is an additional process. The next time around it will be an awful lot easier for people to buy and again there was a time issue as well. There are two different ways to set up PPV. I can’t go into the technicalities, as I don’t fully understand it. But I know next time, with a longer lead-time; it becomes a much easier process for subscribers.
Do you have at this stage any confirmation on the status of Kessler v Ward or even Froch v Kessler? Are negotiations still ongoing?
Yes they are. Kessler v Ward – we very much want to do and I don’t believe any other broadcaster will pick it up. And at the same time we understand the market for that is pretty limited. So if we do it PPV, it would obviously be at a reduced rate and it might be that there are 2000 or 3000 people that want to buy that. So, if we pick it up, we are giving people the option to see it, which at the moment they don’t get, which is an awful shame. I know that a lot of people are not fans of PPV, but our feelings are ‘let's give people the choice, if they want it they can buy it, and if they don’t then nobody is forcing them to buy it’. So we are hoping that we are giving choice to the boxing fan.
One final thing, on the commentary team you had some seriously experienced guys such as, Rosenthal, Bunce and also on commentary were Rawling and Thaxton. For the next event do you foresee the same line-up in terms of the commentary team?
We don’t know yet. On the whole we were very pleased with our presentation and commentary. We used Jon (Thaxton); we gave him a shot to try somebody different. Also, we were very wary, we didn’t want to look like we were a Setanta set up or an ITV set up. So there was a danger there that if you had the likes of Duke McKenzie involved, you become an ITV broadcast and that is something Primetime didn’t want. Primetime wanted its own identity, notwithstanding the fact, for the show that we put on was six hours, we had live feeds coming from Germany. We had an awful in the show, with Bernard Dunne’s fight, Pascal, a lot of VT items, so this wasn’t just two guys linking from live fight to live fight. It was an enormously complicated show and really there are not really many presenters that can pull that off and Jim Rosenthal is one of those. And I would be delighted to work with Jim again.
Thank you for giving me your time and answering all of my questions.
No problem at all. We are young we are still learning and we know that the first time you are not going to please everybody; obviously you hope that you do. We are just trying to take things just one step at a time. I am hoping that down the line that fight fans will be able to watch almost any world title fight that they want to on Primetime. That is my personal dream, whether my partners agree with that remains to be seen. We are having discussions about it. There are just too much big boxing out there that nobody can see, other than to tap into an illegal fuzzy old stream or watching it on youtube and we hope we bring good choice.
Well, I totally agree and it is a breath of fresh air to have a new player on the scene and long may the success continue.