WWE boss Vince McMa­hon has made mil­lions from his pay-per-view spe­cial events, but what is it ex­actly?

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World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment CEO Vince McMa­hon is nick­named “the fa­ther of pay-per-view (PPV)” and wrestling fans have been hear­ing the term since Wrestle­Ma­nia 1 way back in 1985. But what is PPV and why don’t we have it in South Africa?


First things first – we don’t need PPV. Thanks to e.tv, who has the li­cence to air all WWE shows, wrestling is free to any­one with a TV. But it’s not the same around the world, in­clud­ing the United States, where the WWE is based.

Pay-per-view is when view­ers or­der a spe­cial event via phone, dig­i­tal guide on their TV or via on­line agent and watch it live on their TVs us­ing “ca­ble TV” [very sim­i­lar to DStv in the US – and the event airs live, with­out the abil­ity to pause, rewind or watch it at a later time]. PPV is some­thing that Vince says makes WWE events more spe­cial: “We are in show busi­ness. We had 1.3 mil­lion or­ders for this year’s Wrestle­Ma­nia and our pay-per-view num­bers have been up 30 per­cent since then. So we are look­ing pretty good.” He adds that “our PPV events are like the Olympics, but in­stead of ev­ery four years, we have events ev­ery year.” And while 1.3 mil­lion sounds tiny con­sid­er­ing the US’s pop­u­la­tion is over 320 mil­lion, those PPV sub­scribers brought in over $84 mil­lion (R1.2 bil­lion) for the WWE from Wrestle­Ma­nia alone. And with 15 PPV events a year, the WWE is mak­ing a lot of money.


Pay-per-view isn’t ex­clu­sive to the WWE though. It was de­vel­oped by the Zenith Ra­dio Com­pany in 1951 and was called PhoneVi­sion be­cause the TV sig­nal was sent via tele­phone lines to a de­coder plugged into TVs. The first real payper-view event was the iconic “Thrilla In Manila” box­ing fight in 1975 be­tween Muham­mad Ali and Joe Fra­zier. It was aired in the US by en­ter­tain­ment brand HBO (the cre­ators of shows like Sex & The City, 1998-2004; The So­pra­nos, 1999-2007; True Blood, 2008-2014; Game Of Thrones, 2011-cur­rent; and West­world, 2016-cur­rent).

About 100 000 view­ers paid to view the Thrilla In Manila (which cost about $10 at the time), but these days a box­ing match can get up to 4.6 mil­lion PPV or­ders, like the May 2015 fight be­tween Floyd May­weather Jr and Manny Pac­quiao. Most US ca­ble net­works also have their own PPV events – rang­ing from bas­ket­ball and foot­ball through to Broad­way plays – and fans who can’t get to the live event can watch it in the com­fort of their homes… after pay­ing to view it, of course.


Vince McMa­hon bought the rights to the web do­main payper­view.com when the in­ter­net took off in the early ’90s – it redi­rects to the WWE web­site when you visit it.

Vince McMa­hon started us­ing pay-per-views for WWE spe­cials in 1985.

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