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Examining the UFC's decision to stream Silva-Bisping

Former UFC champion Anderson Silva will fight off of pay-per-view for the first time since 2008 when he faces Michael Bisping on Saturday. Getty Images, AP Photo

Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time, is set to meet Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in London.

It's the former middleweight champion's first appearance since a one-year suspension for a failed drug test. It's also a pivotal moment in Silva's career, and it comes against Bisping, a man who has chased a fight with him for years.

And for the first time since 2008, Silva's fight will air live on a platform other than pay-per-view. It's scheduled to run on UFC Fight Pass, the promotion's digital subscription service, in an unfamiliar time slot of 4 p.m. ET.

It's no secret the consumption model of entertainment is changing, but the presence of a live Silva fight on a streaming network is a bit jarring. Going in, it's easily the most significant event ever aired on Fight Pass.

Eric Winter, senior vice president and general manager of Fight Pass, spoke to ESPN ahead of the event to provide a better sense of why this weekend's UFC Fight Night from O2 Arena jumped to a non-traditional broadcast platform.

The UFC opts not to divulge specific subscriber numbers for Fight Pass, but what can you say about growth since its launch in 2013?

I can tell you we continually grow year over year. We're seeing 100 percent increase in subscribers -- we call them customers -- and we expect that similar path for 2016. The answer to that might be a little different though, because with Silva vs. Bisping we are expecting a staggering amount of customers to come through in the 24 hours leading up to the event.

Again, you can't provide a hard number, but give us a sense of how many viewers you expect to watch Silva vs. Bisping?

The only thing in this world that makes me nervous is that we will have a tsunami of customers that will be coming in within 24 hours of the event -- and it's no different than what cable and satellite experience. When you put Anderson Silva on pay-per-view, you can spend all the money in the world you want three months out, three weeks out, three days out, but customer behavior is buying within that last 24 hours. The tsunami of customers increases 10-fold, 50-fold during that time. That's what's going to happen in our digital world. There will inherently be confusion in the marketplace. I'm dancing around your question, but I am telling you what I'm worried about is millions of people who will figure it out on social media, doing Internet searches -- where is the Silva fight? They'll be pushed to our technical product and we are prepared for a little shy of 10 times the amount of customers we get to our billing systems on our previously highest day.

Are you kind of meeting two challenges with this move -- not just asking people to move to a digital service but also the time change on the event?

On one hand, it's never a risk putting the world's greatest mixed martial artist on your platform. It could be 10 in the morning or 10 at night and people are going to tune in because they want to watch Anderson Silva perform at the highest level. On the other hand, it is absolutely, unequivocally a challenge for us. We are trying to change the behavior of customers in the U.S. and let's just say, for arguments sake, 70 percent of our business comes from the U.S. They're used to watching Anderson Silva headline a PPV at 10 p.m. ET. I'd be a fool to say it's not a challenge. It's a multi, multi, multimillion dollar challenge but there's a lot of learns we'll get from this. We're going to get, frankly, so much data you just don't get in the cable and satellite world. When are customers tuning in? What region? what time zone? What platforms are they using? And I'm not saying that one day we're only going to put fights exclusively on a Playstation 4 or an Xbox 1, but we're going to have so much data on our customer's behavior to model our business on, it's going to be a bit overwhelming.

How much do you understand how "cord-cutting" is affecting UFC consumption and what effect does it have on Fight Pass?

I'm going to be over my skis here. I can't definitively say the industry in America has gone from 105 million paid customers on cable and satellite to 95 million. Cord-cutting happens -- let's be real -- but for us, we're growing as a PPV business. We're growing in linear fashion. And most focus on our network partner Fox from a U.S. perspective, but we're growing leaps and bounds internationally. It's not like UFC is only going to build up Fight Pass because everything else is in decline. I argue that statement vehemently when I hear it.

What are you finding on how people use the service? Year-long subscription ($7.99/month)? Month-to-month ($9.99/month)?

We're seeing it across the board. I'm old school and prefer that every single customer be annual. It just means we have a longer time to prove our value. We have customers in 198 countries and they sign up for a variety of different reasons. One is the live events themselves, whether it's UFC events or kickboxing events. We have the No. 1 women's MMA organization in the world [Invicta FC]. Some people don't care about live events and would rather watch it on demand. We have ever-growing original content and I'll be honest and say people aren't subscribing for our original programming yet, but they will.

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta once called Fight Pass, "Netflix for the fight fan." These days that does get you thinking of what you just mentioned, original programming. How much of that are you looking to add?

If I have my way, we're going to have no less than 100 new episodes of content in 2016 that you've never seen before. Truly original content. And I'm not saying we'll do $1 million an episode and create the MMA version of "House of Cards." Maybe it's snackable content. We're going to be launching something that is tried and true called "Where Are They Now?" Six episodes in May and six episodes in September. We'll be taking a look back at 12 of the more important names who have come through the UFC roster.

The UFC has always been known as a PPV-driven business. What is the future of PPV?

I ultimately took over running the PPV events marketing team at DirecTV when I was there. My knowledge on the PPV perspective is really deep and narrow. When I moved from DirecTV to Yahoo!, one of the first calls I made was to Dana White and ultimately Yahoo! became the exclusive global streaming provider for UFC PPV. I'm telling you, our traditional PPV business is growing. It's not going anywhere. UFC Fight Pass is not the WWE Network. We don't have to walk away from traditional cable and satellite. Yes, cord-cutting is happening but there will always be audiences in traditional cable and satellite. We, as a business, need to create and deliver content wherever audiences are, but I'm telling you: PPV business is growing both traditionally and digitally.