Tiger-Phil Match Deemed ‘Huge Success’ by AT&T, Despite Glitches

(Bloomberg) -- A pay-per-view showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson turned into a high-profile stumble for AT&T Inc.’s Turner division after glitches forced the company to offer the event for free.

But the matchup was ultimately a breakthrough, Turner President David Levy said in an interview on Monday. That’s because it helped the WarnerMedia division, now part of AT&T’s sprawling media-and-telecom empire, build its brand and show that the concept could work.

“This was a huge success,” he said. “This worked extremely well as a pay-per-view event.”

AT&T, which acquired Time Warner in an $85 billion deal this year, put on the competition to show that it could apply the time-honored pay-per-view model in sports outside of boxing and with online distribution. It set out to charge $20 for the show, called “The Match,” which aired on Friday.

Instead, it turned into another demonstration of how hard it can be to stream live sports on the internet. On Friday, after some customers couldn’t get past the paywall on the company’s B/R Live platform, Turner decided to make it available for free. Once that happened, many cable providers that had charged for the event -- including Comcast Corp. -- offered refunds. Turner then also extended refunds to its customers who had already paid.

Surge of Viewers

Putting aside the money aspect, the event drew 750,000 unique video views on B/R Live, Levy said. That added up to 55 million minutes consumed on the less-than-year-old platform. While final figures on paying customers across all platforms aren’t yet available, Levy said that those numbers are going “to exceed all of our expectations.”

WarnerMedia reportedly paid $10 million for the rights to the event. Levy said it was worth it, despite the money lost to refunds.

“We’re going to be impacted on the distribution revenue for sure, but that was only one of the revenue streams,” he said. “We also had a tremendous amount of demand from our advertisers and corporate sponsors, which by the way, every single one of them wants to come back in.”

Turner is likely to stage additional events with the same format, Levy said.

“We now know that formula works,” he said. “We know that ‘The Match’ is now a franchise brand. Can we do it for golf? Can we do it for other sports? The answer is probably yes.”

Black Friday

As for the technical problems, Levy said he doesn’t expect they will damage consumer confidence in new streaming platforms -- since everyone was able to watch the event once the paywall was down. He attributed the problems to insufficient memory, server capacity and the high volume of consumer access requests in a short time.

“It had a little to do with us -- it had a little to do with our Amazon cloud partners,” Levy said. “It was also Black Friday on top of everything else. They had a lot of incoming stuff coming through Amazon as well.”

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