Sporting events have become some of the most sought-after and viewed streams for cable cutters. Last week’s boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was one of the most streamed events in sporting history, both legally and illegally, hinting at a future where sporting events can sidestep broadcast distributors altogether and opt for a straight-to-streaming model.
Live streams of the Mayweather-McGregor fight were sold by Showtime for $89.95 USD (high-definition cost $10 extra) and were broadcast in the United States exclusively by Showtime. Before the fight, Showtime predicted that as many as 50 million fans would order the pay-per-view event. Given such a high prediction, it was expected that Showtime had enough technical infrastructure to support the millions of high-definition streams, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
Thousands of paid customers experienced all manner of glitches and streaming errors during the fight, including pixelated streams, slow buffering times, or loss of stream altogether. Many irate customers took their complaints to the internet, where a class action lawsuit quickly came together.
An attorney named Michael Fuller filed a legal complaint in a federal court in Oregon shortly after the fight, claiming that Showtime intentionally misrepresented their capability to stream the expensive event:
Instead of being upfront with consumers about its new, untested, underpowered service, defendant caused likelihood of confusion and misunderstanding as to the source and quality of the HD video consumers would see on fight night. [Showtime] intentionally misrepresented the quality and grade of video consumers would see using its app, and knowingly failed to disclose that its system was defective with respect to the amount of bandwidth available, and that defendant’s service would materially fail to conform to the quality of HD video defendant promised.
The lawsuit seeks up to $200 in damages for customers who were unable to view the fight in 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second or who experienced “ongoing grainy video, error screens, buffer events, and stalls instead.”
Meanwhile, pirated streams of the fight were watched by nearly 3 million people, many of whom are likely to now be tracked thanks to elusive anti-piracy code hidden in some streams. Nearly a half a million more pirated the recorded fight after its conclusion. As much as the streaming revolution is making it easier to cut the cable, a high price tag is a high price tag. If Showtime and other streaming distributors want to cut down on piracy, maybe they should give cable cutters a reason not to seek out free ways to watch pay-per-view events. Clearly laws aren’t stopping people from finding ways to pirate.