The UFC presented its first fight card on the "is it live or is it beta" UFC Fight Pass this past weekend. There were some issues with the "digital network", but once the UFC Fight Night 34 event was located on the service, and the sign in process completed, things went off pretty much without a hitch.
I was unable to rouse myself for the 6 a.m. ET start time of the preliminary card, but I did find the motivation to get to the couch for the main card. Luckily, I was in place a few minutes before the 9 a.m. start time because there were some delays in finding the event on the Fight Pass page.
Judging from Twitter, I was not the only one that was left viewing a preview of the main event a few times before they actually located the stream for the four fight main card from Singapore. That's an issue that needs to be corrected. If fans are going to be asked to rise early in the morning to watch fights, those fights need to be easy to find for someone in a state of being less than fully awake. The live card needs to be the focus of the Fight Pass site on fight days, it should not be a struggle to find.
Once the stream was launched it was smooth sailing. The quality of the stream was fine, and I didn't experience any buffering issues or discernable loss of quality during the event.
One thing that was off though, was the very noticeable difference in audio between the pre-recorded pieces from UFC commentator Jon Anik and the in fight audio. When a pre-recorded piece was played it sounded as if Anik had recorded the audio in the bathroom of his hotel room. By no means is that a deal breaker, but it was noticeable.
There were reports on Twitter that some U.S. and Canada citizens had some initial trouble logging in to Fight Pass. According to the tweets, these individuals were asked to pay for the card despite the fact that they had previously signed up for Fight Pass. Signing off and signing back in seemed to resolve that issue.
Another problem that was reported was the fact that users had to click into the main card after the preliminary card had been completed. That issue was noticed by UFC president Dana White who said it would be corrected:
I didn't know u have to go back to the front page and start it over to see the rest of the card. That is stupid, we will fix that.— Dana White (@danawhite) January 4, 2014
I should note that the multiple camera angles and audio were not available during this fight. Again, this is not a deal breaker, but if the UFC is going to have the feeds listed as part of the service it should provide these angles and audio. It's a nice perk, and something that some fans will find entertaining.
All in all, the live viewing experience was enjoyable, and I would say that for a first run, UFC Fight Pass was a success.
Now, on to looking at the non-live event aspect of UFC Fight Pass, which is a far different animal from the live portion of the service.
Prior to UFC 168, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC president Dana White and UFC Chief Content Officer Marshall Zelaznik hosted a special press conference where they rolled out the Fight Pass service, which was described by Fertitta as being "Netflix for fight fans."
That statement was the one that got my attention. Think about that, any UFC owned fight that you want to see at any time, streaming directly to your computer. That's far better than having to dig through a stack of DVD's and find a particular fight that you want to see at any given moment.
Sadly, right now the service does not deliver as White said it would. During the press conference White said, "Every fight that we've ever done and every fight that we own will be on the service."
White promised over "3000 fights" on the service including 500 Pride, 600 WEC, 500 Strikeforce, all the Affliction and all the WFA fights. If the UFC owns it, White said it would be on Fight Pass, "Every fight that's in our library," were the exact words of the UFC president. Anyone that has logged on and searched for say Nick Diaz will see gaps, big gaps, including Diaz's fights against B.J. Penn and Paul Daley. Many fighters are lacking their full fight catalog at this point.
Another thing that currently falls short is Zelaznik's statement, "We have curated the content in a way that we think will be user friendly."
If the user searches on Strikeforce, they will get two pages of videos to chose from, unfortunately, not one of those is a Strikeforce fight card. Enter UFC 1 and you'll get 21 pages of videos, basically anything that has the term UFC 1 in any form. That includes a huge number of fights after UFC 99. Calling the search engine unwieldy would be kind.
Another issue is that as of now, Fight Pass is only URL based. That means no Roku, no Apple TV and no Xbox. The service is also not available on mobile platforms. Zelaznik did say that could change within the next 60 days.
Right now, that's not a deal breaker since the service is free, but when the pay period kicks in on March 1, it is essential that the UFC can offer the service on more than a web based platform.
I'd like to revisit the live fight aspect of the service here. When Fertitta addressed the rumblings of some fans about the perception that the cards being presented exclusively on Fight Pass were subpar, he said, "It's a UFC Fight Night product. At the end of the day what we tried to do on our Fight Nights is make sure that they are headlined by two individuals that are ranked in the top ten so that there is true meaning behind the outcome of the event. Now, does that happen every single time we do a Fight Night? No, but it's the guidelines, it's what we try to do."
I would agree with that. Saffiedine was supposed to face Jake Ellenberger on this card, a fight that would have pitted two top ten welterweights against each other, exactly what Fertitta described. That fight did not take place due to an Ellenberger injury, forcing the UFC to move Hyun Gyu Lim to the main event. True, the UFC Fight Night 34 bouts outside of the main event did not have "mainstream" appeal on paper, but that has been the case with any number of Fight Night events.
The next Fight Night event that is booked for the service is the March 8 card that will be headlined by No. 1 ranked light heavyweight and No. 11 ranked Jimi Manuwa. The depth on this card is strong and is more along the lines of what we have become accustomed to seeing on Fight Night events. This type of card should be the norm for the events on Fight Pass. That is if the UFC wants to keep users forking over their $9.99 per month.
Having one fight card per month as strong as the March 8 event will keep fans on the hook. Users need to have a compelling reason to stay subscribed to the service. If the UFC does deliver a card that is headlined by a perceived subpar fight it will see a dip in subscribers for that month, and will need to work hard to get them back to the service.
As for those that are subscribing to Fight Pass for access to the historical database, that's another issue that the UFC needs to resolve prior to March 1. The promise is out there that every fight owned by the UFC will be on Fight Pass, if that's not the case as of March 1 I fully expect a slew of cancellation requests to hit the UFC days before the promotion starts actually charging for Fight Pass.
Most of the complaints about Fight Pass have to do with the fact that the service is not delivering what was promised during the launch press conference.
That's a rare misstep for the UFC. Fans are accustomed to top notch offerings from the promotion with few hiccups, and Fight Pass has plenty of hiccups. For whatever reason, the launch of Fight Pass seems like it was rushed, and that's another obstacle the UFC is going to have to overcome. Fans that tried to the free trial and saw that they weren't getting everything they were told they would get may have already cancelled their subscriptions to the service. Those fans will be hard to get back. After all, for some, the first impression is everything.
I'm taking a wait and see attitude with Fight Pass. We're getting a free product now, and as such I can't complain too much about what I am seeing. However, if the full UFC owned fight library is not online by March 1, and the search engine is not shored up in some way, that will change my opinion on the service. It is essential for the UFC to deliver what was promised before it begins charging fans $9.99 a month.
What we have now is a good start, but the clock is ticking.
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