x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pac-Man adds punch to local TV

Middle East media companies look to capitalise on popularity of Manny Pacquiao in the region and beyond.

Manny Pacquiao, right, and Freddie Roach at a training facility in the Philippines. Pacquiao defeated Shane Mosley in their WBO welterweight title fight in Las Vegas.
Manny Pacquiao, right, and Freddie Roach at a training facility in the Philippines. Pacquiao defeated Shane Mosley in their WBO welterweight title fight in Las Vegas.

Manny Pacquiao's victory over Shane Mosley in the US over the weekenddrew cheers from the UAE's Filipino community - and is likely to provoke a similar reaction among local media companies.

The pay-per-view boxing match was broadcast by Etisalat on its local TV network, with the operator hoping for "huge demand" among subscribers paying Dh75 to watch the bout, in which Paquiao retained his WBO welterweight title.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Media (ADM), which owns and publishes The National, chose the weekend boxing showdown in Las Vegas to preview its new video game, which features the Filipino star.

Karkadann Games, a division of ADM, said Pound for Pound Volume 1, which features the champion boxer who is nicknamed "Pac-Man", would be released this summer.

David Ortiz, the general manager of Karkadann Games, said the game would be "a lighter, more casual product", and was geared towards PC, mobile and tablet users. A game created for Facebook may follow, he added.

"Rather than portray Manny as a boxer we made the decision to portray Manny more as a Bruce Lee-style action hero," said Mr Ortiz. "Manny is going to be going through multiple environments … taking on bad guys."

A preview of the game was unveiled in Las Vegas prior to the US fight.

The first title released by Karkadann Games was called Cricket Power and currently sells for US$4.99 (Dh18.32). Mr Ortiz declined to specify the expected price of the Pacquiao title. "We're still working out our pricing model," he said.

Although there are no specific figures for the Middle East, the video games sector is big business in the region.

The global gaming market is expected to grow from $52.5 billion last year to $86.8bn in 2014, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. A similar growth rate is expected in the Middle East.

However, obtaining the image rights to a sports star such as Pacquiao does not guarantee success in this market, said Seth Holmes, the director of consulting at IMG Middle East, the sports marketing agency.

"There's a lot of money in that genre of entertainment," said Mr Holmes. "The question has to be whether Abu Dhabi Media has the reach … and capability to produce such a game. It's difficult to make games that are really cutting-edge."

Before the fight, Omar al Muzakki, the vice president of product marketing at Etisalat, said: "We hope there will be huge demand. We have different nationalities and different interests in our customer base."

While the pay-per-view model is relatively new to the UAE, Etisalat said it was exploring other sports events to broadcast on that basis. It would not disclose how many people had subscribed to watch the Pacquiao fight.

Commentators say there is scope for the growth of pay-per-view sports events in the UAE. "The pay-per-view market is quite substantial," said Jawad Abbassi, the founder and general manager of the Arab Advisors Group, a regional consultancy. "Even though it's a classical model, from Europe and America, I think it still has life in it."

Nick Grande, the managing director of ChannelSculptor, a television consultancy in Dubai, said the sizeable Filipino population in the UAE meant broadcasting the Pacquiao-Mosley bout on pay-per-view made sense. "You can charge a very high premium on the viewing experience," said Mr Grande. "For a major heavyweight bout in the US … You're probably talking … in the $50-plus market.

"For pay-per-view to become big in the UAE there has to be events that would appeal to significant audiences prepared to pay the money."