—The Ultimate Fighting Championship organization has grown to
distribute digital content to 135 countries, often reaching 6 TB of video a
day, in the nine years Christy King has been vice president of Technology
Research & Development for the franchise. She led the effort to develop the
systems and workflow to distribute video on every platform and device available
to consumers around the world.
King recently announced that she is joining Levels Beyond as their chief
operating officer as of Jan. 1, 2015. She talked with
Deborah McAdams about the growth of the UFC and how
the organization met and accommodated an increasing number of multiplatform,
multiformat distribution challenges.
: OK, seriously; 1,400 flavors of Android?
Yep—that’s the goal. Our stuff likely doesn’t play on all of it every day, but
we genuinely attempt to use vendors and partners that get our stuff to play on
: How many devices, platforms, regions and languages was UFC accommodating
when you joined versus what it handles now?
When I joined, we were capturing events on tape, making copies, and
shipping those tape copies all over the world via mail. Live content was
distributed via traditional broadcast and satellite systems. Since 2006, there
has been a worldwide explosion in devices, formats, and delivery mechanisms for
video. We did our level best to be one of the first on every one of those
The UFC’s marketing team
learned that we needed to make the video of our past events available for
consumers in new markets. There is a predictable pattern of adoption of the
sport. Often, it is the “cutting edge” technologies that have the highest
concentration of the demographic that appreciates the sport of MMA.
The UFC has been growing
in popularity globally through deals with the likes of Globo, Televisa, Fox
Sports, YouTube, PS3, Xbox, Hulu, and Apple. How have you adapted to get live
and pre-produced video to all those proliferating devices?
It truly has been a mind-boggling ride. When I started with the UFC in early
2006, there were 51 people in the company and I was supposed to figure out how
to get video on
Just prior to my arrival, a pivotal event changed our understanding of the
marketplace. One of the original legendary athletes decided to retire after
losing a fight. The lone PR staffer at the time happened to have a cheap
consumer video camera and recorded the fighter’s announcement. It was terribly
shot—lighting so dark you could barely see him speaking, audio was a blown-out
mess—and yet that video rocked our world.
In a time when people’s cellphones only made phone calls, YouTube was just a
twinkle, and home pages often took a good minute to load. This little video
caused a sports news sensation. It created the largest number of impressions
our website had ever seen, news outlets actually acknowledged the event, and
UFC’s management team suddenly understood that putting video on this magical
place called the World Wide Web was going to get us in front of an audience in
a whole new way.
Since then, developing processes to provide both live and pre-recorded video on
every device and platform imaginable has been the central consideration to
every production system we’ve integrated.
What was the aftermath of the “pivotal event?” Tell us
about developing those processes. Did it begin with the creation of a web
player, more exploitation of YouTube?
At first there was a bit of a battle of video players and format wars, but
media players quickly settled to a couple of major players that nearly everyone
used. Then everything went crazy again with the proliferation of mobile
devices. That craziness still hasn’t ended. That is the reason that to this day
a “simple” live stream is encoded into no less than 25 versions on six
different CDNs to feed all of the platforms, devices, and players available to
consumers around the world. And that’s just the
stream! When the event is over and the production team is
pushing replays or highlights, Levels Beyond stores around 200 different
delivery specs for all of our partners and their systems.
Did wider distribution affect demand? Was there an
accelerated growth of popularity around the world you could quickly identify?
If so, where did it begin and tell us about what challenges were inherent in
accommodating those new markets.
Our widening distribution was really a result of our own drive. UFC leaders
understood that they were introducing a new sport to a new audience in each new
region. Based on our experiences in television and on examining early website
users, our marketing folks knew that video of our events needed to be
ubiquitous for a certain period of time. Once that happened, the new market
would have experienced just the right amount of exposure to support ticket
sales to a brand new live event.
What were some of the obstacles you ran into, how did you
work around them?
Oddly enough, we still have issues getting a reasonable amount of bandwidth
inside of nearly all of the sports venues around the world to get our work
done. I still don’t have a great solution other than to wait for venues to see
that providing access to significant bandwidth would be a fine source of
revenue from any customer who uses it, whether a concert, business event or
sport. We all have to push digital content to social media and our many staff
and partners around the world. It is not a choice anymore.
You recently provided a user report about leveraging the
technologies of Aspera and Levels Beyond. Something obviously impressed you
about Levels Beyond. What was it that set the company apart for you and UFC?
I have been a customer of Levels Beyond since they were a couple of guys hiding
at a folding table at the back of the South Hall of NAB. I worked with a very
bright editor at the time who had the foresight to see what was going to need
to happen to our production workflow to conquer this brave new world of
He introduced me to the team and we spent the next years inventing a new way of
My sports business contemporaries roll their eyes at me a little bit because I
am the only one who gleefully smiles and says DAMs and MAMs are great! I don’t
have horror stories of integrating with legacy systems from hell, or mutinies
staged by hordes of angry editors or, most damning of all, the one who never
had to explain a million dollar cost/time overrun to her CFO.