Manny Pacquiao speaks to the media about the upcoming fight...

Manny Pacquiao speaks to the media about the upcoming fight against Chris Algieri during a news conference at The Venetian on Nov. 19, 2014 in Macau, China. Credit: Getty Images / Chris Hyde

Manny Pacquiao has been in 19 pay-per-view fights for HBO, attracting nearly 13 million buys and north of $700 million in revenue.

So he enters Saturday night's bout against Chris Algieri as close to a sure thing -- along with Floyd Mayweather -- as the current pay-per-view boxing business offers.

But as Pac Man nears his 36th birthday next month, and as PPV as we now know it marks around a quarter-century worth of main events, how sustainable is the model as it moves deeper into the 21st century?

It's a complicated question, as are most things in these rapidly evolving media times.

Executives familiar with the two sports entities that rely on it most -- boxing and mixed martial arts -- are optimistic about the near future but realistic about the need to deliver for modern fans who have access to immediate and extensive information, whether or not they pay up.

That often includes video highlights, legally obtained or otherwise, shortly after an event ends.

"In pay-per-view boxing, nothing takes the place of live," said Mark Taffet, HBO's senior VP for pay-per-view, who has been at it since the company's first big PPV bout: George Foreman vs. Evander Holyfield in 1991.

"When you have the right event, nothing takes the place of that live thrill."

That may be so, but now more than ever, it is essential to get people excited enough to pry open their wallets.

"When the right fight comes along and you believe you can present a Super Bowl-type experience to fans where they're willing to watch in groups of four, five, six or more people, you have a pay-per-view event," Taffet said. "By definition, it needs to be special, not regular."

The other titan of sports pay-per-view is UFC, which conducts events approximately monthly, far more frequently than big-time boxing does.

UFC's chief content officer, Marshall Zelaznik, agreed with Taffet that there can be no shortcuts on quality.

"It's up to us to figure out how to create and develop content that will make people not want to miss it," he said. "We have to do the right job to respect the consumer, to give them something that's valuable and worth paying for."

In addition to non-PPV television events, UFC offers a digital product, UFC Fight Pass, with live events and other content.

"We have to figure out how to marry all of those together so pay-per-view still remains unique," Zelaznik said. "Fundamentally, that's what we are always juggling."

There is no juggling when it comes to protecting the product itself. Zelaznik said UFC has a "very strong anti-piracy" team to protect against unauthorized dissemination of live video and to protect key highlights from appearing on legal outlets.

"We are pretty militant about it," he said. "We don't let the juicy content out."

UFC's pay-per-view figures reportedly are down this year, which president Dana White acknowledged earlier this month in an interview at the NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference.

"Trust me, we love pay-per-view," he said. "When these big events happen, the pay-per-view numbers will come back. But we're much more than a pay-per-view company." He cited UFC's other media products and its growth globally.

WWE long has been the third pillar of PPV, but the pro wrestling company shook up the industry earlier this year with the introduction of the WWE Network, an online channel that includes its big pay-per-view events.

Subscriptions reportedly have been sluggish, but Michelle Wilson, WWE's chief revenue and marketing officer, said the company "will continue to produce content year-round for all of our distribution partners as well as WWE Network, ultimately allowing our fans to choose where, when and how they watch our programming."

Taffet said HBO remains committed to growing boxing by showing quality bouts involving emerging fighters on its regular television service. But he added that even as the technology changes and evolves, he sees no end in sight for pay-per-view as a key element of the business.

"When pay-per-view stands for a product or event that's special," he said, "something that is worth people's time and their money, and it's something that by definition is not regular, the model has proven to be very successful, and I believe will always be successful."


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