It wasn’t clear how Stateside fans were going to view this Saturday’s bout at Lanxess-Arena in Koln (Cologne), Germany between WBC heavyweight champion, Vitali Klitschko and Odlanier Solis. In the past, they might have had the option of watching a live stream on ESPN3.com but it was announced last month that Epix, a nascent premium cable network would be televising the bout. While the channel is relatively new, the man in charge is familiar with the boxing business.
That would be Mark Greenberg, their President and CEO.
"Obviously, I spent 17 years at Showtime and I spent eight years at HBO, so I had 25 years in the pay television business and when I was at Showtime, I worked in events and Jay Larkin and Ken Hershman worked for me," Greenberg said to Maxboxing last week. "I also ran the digital media group, as well as affiliate sales and marketing, so I ran a wide range of businesses. So one of the things you learn and one of the reasons that people subscribe to pay television- and we’re a new network, we launched, we started as a joint venture, Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, October 30th of 2009- so we’ve only been on the air 15, 16 months. And we came up with a great cadre of movies from Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM and some independents from Samuel Goldwyn and Roadside Attractions and we have access to 15,000 library titles from those big three studios, of which we have 3,000 on our website
"So we have great, great movies, great background, great behind-the-scenes,” added Greenberg. “We’re already doing live events. We’ve done music; we’ve done Madonna, Black Eyed Peas, Bon Jovi. We’ve done some great comedy events with Lewis Black, Louis C.K., with a whole myriad of comedians we’ve had on the network, thus far. And we always have on the road map of doing, on the live events side, ’Where do we go on the ring sports?’ And we were always questioning, ’Is it mixed-martial-arts; is it wrestling or boxing?’ And we still feel that boxing has some great opportunities; it’s always been a great draw on the pay-TV side. So it kinda lined up."
Greenberg, who is a fan of the sport, recalls, "I grew up on Saturday afternoons, Howard Cosell, “Wide World of Sports” doing rebroadcasts of Muhammad Ali fights. And so we saw the idea of doing something creative of taking that Saturday afternoon late time slot and broadcasting live that Klitschko fight and then rebroadcasting it later that same day. And we think we get the benefit of both, doing something different and trying to find some ways to help continue to breathe life into the boxing business."
Like HBO and Showtime years ago, Epix is trying to discover if an involvement in this business can be an impetus to boost subscriptions.
"Listen," said Greenberg, who was an Executive V.P. of Showtime from 1989 to 2006, "for a decade, on both the good and bad of boxing, being in the Mike Tyson business- he became the highest rating-getter on Showtime. And obviously, Mike was the eye of the storm and it always created a lot of interest and intrigue. I think boxing has an extraordinarily loyal audience and it has diehard fans who want to continue to see it. I think we need to do a better job of generating the next young group of viewers for boxing. I think the boxing viewership has gotten older but clearly, in the early days of HBO and until 20 years ago when Showtime got into the business, it really was movies and boxing that were two critical reasons why people subscribed. And I think I made an easy decision for us to get into the position of doing a world heavyweight championship fight."
Greenberg was intrigued by the idea of their first fight card featuring a heavyweight championship, believing it just had a certain cache over, say, a lightweight title bout. But he also believed that the way boxing was presented to the masses needed to evolve with the times. This was no longer 1990.
"I don’t know; aren’t there just three broadcasters?" he joked, before adding, "I can’t speak for what they do but all I can tell you is our strategic direction, was a multi-platform approach. What we believe is that it’s important to still have your brand on a linear channel in HD, uncut, unedited on the channel box. We also do 300 hours of movies on-demand in HD, every month- more than anyone else. Than we took our EpixHD.com website and on that website, we take all of our movies, all of our library, in addition to that, all of our live events and we rebroadcast."
Klitschko-Solis will be streamed live and archived for their online portal.
"We use the website as a way to reach the younger demographic and whether we want to, like it or not, it is how these kids- age 15 to 30- are watching their content. And our job is to deliver it to them the way they want, as long as we protect, as they say, that intellectual property and we’re trying to find a way for honest people to be honest, to get access to that content. We all learned this really important lesson from the music industry- that if you ignore it, people will still find a way to do it."
The network is offering a free trial subscription to its website (more information on that down below). However, the stark reality is that many of the major cable operators and DirecTV do not offer Epix as of now. Regarding their distribution, Greenberg says, "We’re probably one of the fastest growing networks that’s launched. We’re available in over 35 million homes today, so obviously, we have some big distribution to gain. We did an enormous deal on the internet side last summer with Netflix, which doesn’t help the fight fans because we’re not streaming this on Netflix, which is why we’re having it on our website. We are going to make it available, that if people want to do a two-week sample, they can come to our website and register. It gives us an opportunity to establish a relationship with them and encourage them to use our brand."
The question I’m sure all of you are asking is this- will Klitschko-Solis be just a one-off or the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with boxing?
"Look, anything’s possible," answered Greenberg. "I think we always evaluate our options and I do believe that since I left working boxing directly, five years ago, there’s probably less dates being broadcast today then there was five years ago. And obviously, we lost some big attractions with Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield- the ones we all knew years ago. I think there are a lot of fighters out there, a lot of promoters out there. It’s interesting; I probably have talked to every boxing promoter; they’ve been into my office, talking about what our future is- with the exception of one. They’re all trying to find ways to get access through television to promote their fighters. I think there’s certainly a lot of room for more boxing to be out there and help build the category and particularly, I think there’s a lot of room to reach a younger demographic.
"I think some promoters have done a great job of reaching ethnic groups and some have done some high-profile fights but I think in terms of trying to make this interesting to the younger viewer, I don’t think anyone’s done a particularly good job of that yet. We’re hoping to help build the next boxing audience."
If it were solely Greenberg’s decision, boxing would be a part of the Epix tapestry.
"I could’ve done that two years ago," stated Greenburg, "but I think I love the sport. I think it’s fun; I have a lot of respect; they’re good friends. "I’ve spent time with Don King to Gary Shaw to Dan Goossen, Frank Warren; they’re guys I’ve done business with. I like them; I respect them. They’re all people who I find interesting and they have great content to offer. And sure, if I can find the right economic terms to do business with these guys; there’s potential for us."
They certainly aren’t going to be in the economic stratosphere of HBO or even Showtime for now but for this particular bout, they are said to have paid much more than what ESPN usually doles out for boxing programming. Perhaps they can find a niche as that middle-class network boxing has been missing for so long.
"I inherited the Tyson business," Greenberg explained, "and it was a valuable one but the decisions we made may have been [uneconomic] at the time because you get caught up in the moment. So I have more objectivity as a CEO, for sure, than I did as an Executive Vice President."
Here is the 411 I was given on how to view Klitschko-Solis this weekend if you don’t have the network on your cable box:
Fight fans can see WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko defend the crown against #1 ranked contender Odlanier Solis compliments of EPIX live on EpixHD.com. Click here http://epx.ms/dR64ml for a 14-day free trial. EPIX is the television and online premium entertainment service from studios Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate. The 14-day free trial includes access to 3,000 movies, music and comedy specials as well as the WBC heavyweight championship fight on March 19. To follow the event on Twitter use #KlitschkoSolis or @EpixHD with comments!
Twitter language and links-
Don’t miss the Klitschko v. Solis fight LIVE online! Click here http://epx.ms/dR64ml and grab an @EpixHD free trial to catch every blow by blow!
Here’s how to watch the Klitschko v. Solis fight live online! Just click here http://epx.ms/dR64ml and grab an @EpixHD free trial!
To follow the Klitschko v. Solis fight live on Twitter use #KlitschkoSolis for round by round highlights!
It wasn’t too long ago that HBO co-president, Richard Plepler wanted a plan from his head of HBO Sports, Ross Greenburg, to resuscitate their lagging boxing program. In this article from Thomas Hauser at Secondsout.com (HBO and Boxing at a Crossroads), written on September 30th, 2009: "The key players in the drama that’s unfolding are HBO CEO Bill Nelson, co-president Richard Plepler, and Lombardo. Sources say that these three men have been frustrated by the absence of a coherent overall plan for boxing at HBO. Plepler (who has an extensive background in public relations) is said to have taken particular notice of the publicity that Showtime received when it announced its 168-pound championship tournament. He wonders why HBO Sports, with a far larger budget, has stirred so little media interest in its own boxing programming.
At an early stage of the budget discussions, the powers-that-be asked Greenburg for a comprehensive plan that outlines his vision for the future of boxing at HBO. In making their request, they told him that simply saying HBO intends to buy better, more competitive fights in the future doesn’t constitute a plan. That’s what HBO should have been doing all along. They want a plan."
Well, since that time, they have lost the services of pay-per-view stalwart Miguel Cotto and perhaps the most important prizefighter on the planet, Manny Pacquiao, while alienating the likes of promotional titan Top Rank, which handles these two standouts along with having the best track record in developing talent from scratch. Hauser, in subsequent articles, has outlined how Pacquiao and Bob Arum ended up across the street at Showtime.
The word is that Greenburg was proposed a new series that will air on HBO2 as a monthly series, focusing in on young, up-and-coming talent. The license fee for this program will be approximately $150,000 per show. It seems like a pretty good idea on the surface; more boxing (whether it’s on an upstart network or an established one) is never a bad thing. It provides more opportunities for fighters to work and showcase their abilities.
There is a fly in this ointment, however. Greenburg has already promised nine of the 12 dates to the trio of Golden Boy Promotions, Lou DiBella and Gary Shaw, who pitched the series to Greenburg, with a promise that with those dates, they would work with all the members of the Boxing Promoters Association. This means the network is now thinking about another output deal, which many believe helped get them into this current situation. A couple of promoters who got wind of this have already stated their objections, wondering why certain “promoters” (some being just glorified television packagers who can only do shows with the safety net of a network license fee and casino money) have guaranteed slots. They were told that the remaining three dates of this series- should it come to fruition- will be up for grabs.
Bob Arum of Top Rank, who, according to Hauser, was ordered not to be treated punitively by Greenburg going forward by the higher-ups at HBO, told Maxboxing on late Tuesday afternoon, "This is what Ross says is happening and our position is that we are not going to be treated as second-class citizens and we have no interest in taking any part in this and it’s going to be very, very hard with an entity going forward that treats you as a second-class citizen."
Arum- along with some other promoters- believes that a series like this, with all 12 dates, should be open and that whoever provides the best content should get those individual slots. Even with the promise of working with all the other promoters, those who are in charge of those slots not only have a competitive advantage but they are also in position to leverage their way into the careers of fighters by having these dates in their back pockets. Why continue to enable those who can’t cultivate and market attractions and punish those who can?
On the surface, the advent of a new series designed at showcasing new talent is a step in the right direction.
The way it might be executed is five steps backward.
RUNNIN’ REBS/FAB FIVE
I really enjoyed both the “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” on HBO and “The Fab Five” on ESPN this past weekend. My only critique of the one on HBO is that I wish it would have been longer and focused on just how dominant that ’91 team really was prior to its loss to Duke in the national semifinals. I still remember them absolutely hammering a very good Arkansas team (with Todd Day, Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry) on the road and Larry Johnson almost tearing off Day’s head in a skirmish at the end of the game. Also, a look at how the program has never regained its magic would’ve been appropriate because that was truly a special era that will never be replicated.
I remember growing up watching a bunch of their games on KCAL9 out here in Los Angeles with Chick Hearn or Ross Porter calling the action. I have vivid memories of the likes of “Fearless” Freddie Banks, Gerald Paddio, Mark Wade, Armon Gilliam, Eldridge Hudson, Danny Tarkanian, George Ackles, David Butler, the likes of Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Anderson Hunt and, of course, “Grandmama” Johnson. And “The Tark” was truly one-of-a-kind.
As for “The Fab Five,” those scenes of Chris Webber basically slumping off the floor after his infamous timeout versus UNC in the 1993 title game are heartbreaking. As a guy who was a huge Webber fan during that era, you could still feel the pain and disappointment. But here’s the thing; while it was great to hear from Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard and Jimmy King (and that they’re all doing well), having a documentary on the “Fab Five” without C-Webb is like doing one on “Public Enemy” and having Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Professor Griff and a couple of the S1-Ws but leaving out Chuck D.
It just wasn’t whole without him.
Had a chance to talk to “International” Sampson Lewkowicz, the adviser to middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, who says that he has been given word by HBO of a return date in July and that they hope to make that fight in Southern California. Should all go well in that appearance, there could be a pay-per-view show in November...This Saturday night’s edition of “Top Rank Live” comes from Chiapas, Mexico and has WBA junior flyweight titlist Ramon Gonzalez facing Manuel Vargas. “El Chocolatito” is one of the very best small fighters around today...Integrated Sports Media has two upcoming pay-per-shows in early April. On the 2nd , they feature the rematch between Giovani Segura and Ivan Calderon (for $39.95) and on April 9th, Tomasz Adamek-Kevin McBride ($29.95)...Didn’t know this but Todd and Dena duBoef of Top Rank both worked as part of the UNLV basketball support staff as kids back in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s. Todd goes back to the days of Sidney Green and I was impressed that Dena knew what the “Amoeba Defense” was....