Last September HBO announced that it was ending their 45-year relationship with Boxing broadcasting. The executive vice president claimed that boxing was not in the consumer’s mind when subscribing for the channel. The development is interesting and maybe it says more about HBO and the economics of the entertainment industry rather than the sport.
Below is the average HBO viewership for a fight from 2014 to 2018. The higher average in 2015 is partly explained by the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout that attracted an estimated 4.6 million PPV buys. Over the last 3 years the average fight has attracted just over 600,000 viewers.
There seems to be multiple forces at play here. Firstly, there is the disruption associated with a variety of different digital platforms boxing can be watched on and HBO seem to be suffering from more intense competition from ESPN, Fox Sports and a range of streaming services.
Secondly, there has been a notable rise in popularity for close substitutes (MMA). While it may be premature to think that boxing viewership has dramatically declined, is the sport becoming even more niche?
Thirdly, the decline in boxing viewership over the years means that primetime slots on HBO might be best served with a different form of entertainment. For instances Game of Thrones attracts millions of viewers to HBO. Perhaps the company are making a wise strategic decision by considering substitutes that would not initially be thought of as ‘close’ – why leave the drama to be created by boxers that vary in quality over time when you can create and control your own superstars? More certainty on viewership figures is surely an attractive proposition. Perhaps it doesn't bother viewers if the drama is scripted or not?