Last spring, CBS proved it could show a live sporting event on the Web, for free, and not cut into the network’s broadcast’s revenue stream. Now it’s trying it again.
The difference: The first time the Tiffany Network did this was with the NCAA March Madness tournament, the jewel of college sports. This time: cage brawls of mixed martial arts.
CBS is Webcasting full streams of its “EliteXC Saturday Night Fights”, a summer programming stunt that has drawn heavy criticism and moderate ratings. Burger King is sponsoring the free Web version.
By streaming the event online, CBS hopes to reach at least some of the young, male MMA fans that just don’t watch network TV. It also puts the sport, and its best-known fighter Kimbo Slice, back in its element. Slice (real name: Kevin Ferguson), a 240-pound former bouncer and bodyguard, was made famous by bloody underground YouTube videos of his brawls.
CBS made $24 million online from March Madness, but CBS Interactive president Quincy Smith won’t say how much he can wring out of his online cage matches.
We don’t know if it will be enough to silence at least one critic of of the show. CBS chairman Sumner Redstone recently said “I don’t like the sport” and questioned whether it’s “socially responsible” to air it on free network TV.
Ratings for the first show, which aired this weekend, were unimpressive, but typical for a Saturday night. The two-hour show averaged 4.3 million viewers an hour, according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen. That beat NBC’s coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals, but lost to Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted.” But, among men aged 18-34, the network tripled its normal Saturday night average.
What did those young men come to see? A bit more of what they’ve been watching for years on YouTube:
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