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?
THE BUY IN
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.