FITE – The latest evolution in sports broadcasting
Sports broadcasting is a continually evolving sector as rights holders look to maximise engagement and increase viewership, amongst fans that are constantly eyeing innovative ways to view their sport.
What with a plethora of pay-per-view contests and a host of new sports seeking to break into the mainstream, combat sports are a hive for innovation amongst broadcasters.
FITE is the latest stage in sports broadcasting's evolution, with the digital network thriving on its ability to deliver live content, as it seeks to stand apart from other OTT platforms.
Michael Weber, the Chief Operating Officer of the growing combat sports platform emphasised that the company's forte is being able to deliver live programming and continuing to overcome the hurdles that come with live sports broadcasting to offer a deeply engaging product.
During an interview with InsiderSport, he revealed the diligent preparation and work that goes into ensuring the FITE offering is of the highest quality: "We are a digital sports platform, our forte is our ability to deliver live programming, digitally we do a good job with it and it's hard to do.
A key part of what impresses people in the industry is our ability to coordinate our expansive portfolio of shows, it takes a great deal of planning and communications.
Around 95% of our shows we take via the internet, as opposed to being taken via satellite, this means a lot of coordination with the promoters on site is integral to what we do."
The platform has experienced accelerated growth since its formation four years ago, now boasting rights to a myriad of some of the most well regarded combat sporting events. Weber went onto underline just how much the group's progression has been aided by enhancements in technology.
"We will be four years old in February and in that time it's amazing just how much better the technology has become, specifically when it comes to internet distribution from arenas, which is something we have to make sure works in order to get the product to our platform.
"The FITE platform is available via a mobile app, but not only can fans consume sports via a mobile app, but also you can stream it to your connected TV if you're on the same WiFi. We are also an app on ROKU, Apple TV and Amazon Fire, and online via our website at www.FITE.tv. Essentially, if you have the ability to watch Netflix in your home, you can watch FITE."
Underlining just how varied their portfolio of content is, he added: "We aren't the same type of product as Netflix, they are all on demand content and I don't think they are looking to get into live sports. We are essentially the answer to Netflix as a live sports platform, with our initial focus being on combat sports, boxing, pro wrestling, MMA, BKB, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, we've even done arm wrestling and sumo wrestling.
We offer a lot of free programming too, it gets people interested in the platform.
When it comes to wrestling, the episodic shows are there to expose the characters to a wider audience and build storylines, with the payoff being the pay-per-view, when it comes to boxing and MMA we do weigh ins and press conferences, feature programmes about the events, including our special feature which is FITE in Focus, it works well in boxing fans really want to gain an insider's insight before the fight."
Catering to combat sports fans as a main demographic presents positive connotations as well as challenges, Weber was keen to highlight that the group rings its own unique characteristics.
"There is a very strong combat sports community who are looking to watch anything and everything in combat sports, but also and I believe this is as true in Europe as it is in the US, fewer and fewer people have satellite as a means to engage with PPV events, in the States it's up to about 30 or 35 % of the people no longer have cable or satellite, so as everybody has the internet, we provide alternative access to the PPV content."
Highlighting the role a platform like FITE can play in expanding the reach of breakthrough sporting organisations, he added: "We are becoming more and more important when it comes to getting breakout brands mainstream exposure, especially when it comes to pro wrestling, we are one of the only places that really pushes a brand outside the WWE, and wrestling fans have really embraced our platform."
In recent weeks, FITE has broadcast two significant events from the world of combat sports, both rematches and both appealing to two very different markets, exemplifying the widespread and significant variety in FITE's content.
One of the events took place last weekend, the BKFC clash between UFC veterans, Artem Lobov and Jason Knight, the other took place seven days prior and saw YouTubers, KSI and Logan Paul battle in their first ever professional boxing match.
Discussing what it meant to be an official partner of the KSI vs Logan Paul contest, Weber emphasised: "What we really like about KSI and Logan Paul is they both transcend combat sports with their social media following.
The numbers they drew were astounding, its provided us a great opportunity to get our product in front of people who previously had no idea that we even existed.
"It was good for us from a branding perspective as well as giving us an opportunity to show what was a really sought after event and we hope the new fans stay and enjoy some of the other programming we have."
AEW Wrestling is another one of FITE's key programmes, Weber underlined just how much the commitment of their fans on a global level has shone through: "Combat sports fans are passionate, if they want to watch it then they will find a way, whatever time of day it is.
"A good example is AEW Wrestling, we have international rights to their US product, so that means the shows start at 1am on Thursday morning in the UK and we are doing fantastic numbers, live.
On our FITE platform we have our chat feature, which allows fans to chat with fellow viewers, the fans are chatting with each other and it really emphasizes just how many of our fans are watching live from Europe.
"The two screen experience is very much a part of TV now, whether you're watching European football or US football. I'm slightly older and I still communicate with my friends and we break down the game via text message, so we just took that and brought it to the FITE platform.
"Fans are always keen to share their thoughts and comments on the latest sporting events as they're going on and the chat feature allows them to do that, it's something that has been embraced by all fans, however the wrestling fans really utilise it as something that adds to their experience."