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Why the UFC's Next Big Fight Will Only Be Available Online

Image: UFC Octagon Girls wait between fights

UFC Octagon Girls wait between fights during UFC Fight Night 81 at TD Banknorth Garden on Jan. 17, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

If you're looking to watch the highly anticipated Anderson Silva versus Michael Bisping fight on Saturday, don't turn to a TV pay-per-view channel. This UFC fight will only be available through UFC Fight Pass, the organization's digital streaming service.

"We would fail ourselves if we only stayed in a silo and delivered it in the traditional way of distribution and content," said Eric Winter, UFC senior vice president and general manager of Fight Pass.

By making the London-based UFC Fight Night 83 matches only available through its own digital platform, the organization is breaking away from a decades-long tradition of combat sports events making themselves available through pay-per-view on premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime.

Winter said the decision isn't a sign that the UFC is moving away from TV, and that the company still enjoys its partnership with Fox. But, it does reflect that the UFC is seeing that its viewers want to watch content on their own time — and digital platforms like Fight Pass allow them to do that.

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"We know our customers are at the digital forefront," said Winter. "We are seeing customers searching on mobile devices four times more than on their desktop. The consumption is still on desktop but eking out into mobile."

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And, with cord cutting a growing reality — eMarketer is predicting that 12.5 percent more households will quit cable in 2016 — not relying on using a PPV method that requires a subscription may be a smart move.

The thing is, HBO and Showtime never really made money from PPV fights. While there is a possibility to gain a lot of revenue from one PPV fight — the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao bout in May 2015 netted an estimated $400 million, according to Deadline — most fights don't get enough viewers to bring in that pay day for networks.

Though 4.6 million people bought Mayweather vs. Pacquiao at $100 a pop, many recent fights have only appealed to hundreds of thousands of viewers. A few crack over a million viewers. And, after boxers and their promoters get paid, just 5 to 10 percent of the money goes back to HBO or Showtime, CNBC previously reported.

What PPV does provide, however, is a great way to increase awareness of the cable network to new customers and possibly turn them into subscribers. The UFC is hoping that it will see some of that effect. The organization is hoping that the exclusive Silva vs. Bisping fight will double the number of Fight Pass members.

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The UFC doesn't provide numbers on individual fight viewership or subscribers to Fight Pass, launched in December 2013. However, it said its subscriber base grew 100 percent last year. Unlike boxing, UFC fighters are united under one league, meaning that the organization has the rights to all the fights, similar to the NFL or MLB model. Right now, Fight Pass' library includes 17,000 individual fights.

The UFC is estimating that 98 percent of its Fight Pass subscribers will view the Silva vs. Bisping fight within 24 hours of it airing, six times higher than its previous highest exclusive event, VanZant vs. Namajunas. It also expects to triple its peak concurrent views (measuring who's watching at every second) during the event.

"I think any rights holder has to be creative and innovative in how its gets content to its customers," said Winter. "The UFC is a worldwide product. It's our responsibility to go out to our customers and find out where they are and where they like to consume their content."