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What is Pay-Per-View?

By J. Beam
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pay-per-view is a system that most entertainment buffs are familiar with. Much like the name suggests, it's a system that enables cable and satellite television subscribers to purchase programming for a one-time view. In existence in one form or another since the late 1950s, it began its rise in popularity in the late 1980s and has expanded to several carriers and various programming.

The bulk of pay-per-view purchases are sporting events, and though nearly every sport offers at least one such event each year, professional boxing and wrestling account for the majority of sporting event purchases. Sports bars are a large customer base of these sporting events, offering patrons the opportunity to watch the event for a cover charge, or sometimes for free, in hopes of recouping their investment through food and drink purchases. Other programming is available in addition to sporting events and, typically, concerts and other live events along with adult films comprise the remaining market. Playboy is the largest provider of adult films to pay-per-view carriers and accounts for an estimated 900 thousand orders per month.

Hollywood box office films did account for a small portion of pay-per-view programming at one time, but since the development of movies-on-demand, major motion pictures are no longer as successful. Though similar in that a one-time fee is charged for viewing, movies-on-demand allows the subscriber to purchase the movie and schedule the viewing at a time convenient to the subscriber. Pay-per-view events and programming appear at a predetermined time, often because an event is live.

The pricing of pay-per-view programming varies depending on the event. Some sporting events and concerts can be quite expensive, while adult films are typically relatively cheap. Programming is available to most satellite television and digital cable customers in the United States, and there are several worldwide carriers as well.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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