Yes, the Mayweather-Pacquiao championship fight was a huge cash cow for HBO and Showtime, bringing in a positively mind-blowing $400+ million in pay-per-view revenues last night. That’s potentially the largest haul ever for PPV, and even if the fight ultimately turned out to be something of a snoozer, it’s vindication for the networks’ massive promotion.
But that impressive success may still have come at a steep price, as cable companies turned out to be somewhat – to put it mildly – unprepared for the massive demand. Unprecedented service problems plagued cable and satellite providers across the country, leading promoters to delay the start of the match by 45 minutes. Even when the fight finally did begin, service outages continued apace, causing a crush of complaints so massive that Comcast reportedly just stopped taking phone calls, while Time Warner, in at least one instance, informed customers of a nearly 12-hour wait time to speak to customer service.
The result: despite HBO and Showtime winning an 11th-hour injunction preventing any streaming of the bout, pirated streams proliferated, especially via Twitter’s Periscope app. Behind that injunction is the idea that anyone streaming the event would have to host the feed. However, Periscope doesn’t host anything itself. Instead, users just stream directly from their phones; simply point your camera at a television screen showing the fight, and you’re a go. Low quality? Yes. But for tens of thousands, it was better than nothing at all.
The service has already seen heavy use during broadcasts of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and from the scene during the Baltimore riots, but last night appears to have exceeded both considerably. Users from as far apart as Texas and North Korea are being reported, and in fact, the problem was so rampant, at least one Periscope user was streaming the fight from within the MGM Grand Garden Arena itself.
Obviously illegal, but short of killing the app, there’s little to be done, at least for now. Because of where feeds originate, Periscope relies on users to report copyright infringement. Last night, Twitter attempted to mitigate that limitation by paying attention to streams with a high number of ‘hearts’ (Periscope’s version of likes) and shutting down MayPac feeds whenever found. Alas, new streams popped up almost instantly. With so many people making use of the app worldwide, tamping down on piracy is essentially a game of whack-a-mole.
HBO is certainly willing to play that game, however. (Even if it also wants to use Periscope for its own purposes). Last month, the network issued takedown notices to several Periscope users for showing Game of Thrones episodes. Similar action is sure to follow here. But, whatever concerns Twitter may have about the problem, it certainly isn’t upset. Twitter had a great night, with tweets about the fight seen 2.7 billion times on Twitter and all over the web. Naturally, many of those tweets were Periscope-related; about the exposure Periscope got from last night, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo had this to say:
As if to make that point for everyone, SNL opened last night with a sketch about pirated feeds from the fight. Watch it here.