Three weeks ago in Los Angeles, a 54-year-old Mike Tyson fought a 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr in a boxing match that was unusual not only for the age of its participants.
Former undisputed world heavyweight champion Tyson showed glimpses of his old power and speed as the judges surprisingly scored the eight-round contest as a draw.
Instead of leading US boxing broadcasters Fox, Showtime and DAZN, Tyson vs Jones aired exclusively on a video service that had no prior history of showing live sport.
The name Triller might not mean much to most Brits or Americans, but this exhibition fight marked the beginning of the tech start-up’s ambitious plan to increase its live sports coverage.
What is Triller?
Triller is a video-led social media application with 65m monthly active users, according to its founders.
It offers a similar service to ByteDance’s TikTok app, although Triller is more reliant on sophisticated AI technology that helps users edit their videos.
Unlike TikTok, which is headquartered in Beijing, Triller is American-owned.
It was formed in 2015 and Los Angeles-based film production company Proxima Media acquired a controlling stake in the firm in October 2019.
Proxima’s principal Ryan Kavanaugh, a veteran movie producer and president of Warner Bros who has financed over 200 films, is said to have been instrumental in Triller’s $50m acquisition of the rights to the Tyson vs Jones fight.
Kavanaugh’s own Hollywood background – he once described his Moneyball approach to film financing as “we’ll never let creative decisions rule our business decisions” – seemed to inform how Triller sold the fight to consumers.
Rapper Snoop Dogg provided colourful co-commentary, while hip-hop artists Wiz Khalifa, French Montana and YG all performed at the event.
On the fight’s undercard, high-profile YouTuber Jake Paul knocked out former professional basketball player Nate Robinson.
The event’s key players praised the broadcast’s production values. Kavanaugh said that Triller and Proxima “treated the event like the set of a film, an award show, and a pro-sports event, because we wanted to produce something that had never been done before”.
“It was like watching a Tarantino film, the Super Bowl, Rocky, and Woodstock all in one,” said Snoop Dogg.
And the expensively-produced boxing exhibition has brought in significant revenue for Triller, helping to establish the tech firm as a potential player in the world of live sports broadcasting.
According to Kavanaugh, 1.6m people watched the fight, which cost $49.99 on pay-per-view platforms.
If those figures are accurate, then Tyson vs Jones will have earned Proxima and Triller almost $80m.
Triller has big plans for its new Fight Club
Shortly after the fight, Triller announced that Tyson vs Jones marked the start of a new venture.
Triller has partnered with Snoop Dogg to found a new boxing league called The Fight Club, which will stage between five and eight shows a year.
Snoop Dogg is to be celebrity host and MC for Fight Club events, a role that will also involve selecting fighters and musical acts.
Immediately after Tyson vs Jones, several high-profile retired boxers and content creators expressed an interest in fighting in similar exhibition bouts.
Floyd Mayweather announced that he would be fighting American YouTuber Logan Paul on 20 February 2021.
Paul lost to British internet personality KSI in a six-round professional white-collar boxing match in November 2019.
Content creators such as KSI and the Paul brothers are attracting a new, younger audience to the sport of boxing, and Triller hopes that it can establish itself as the main platform for these high-profile fights.
“Where these apps can play a role is in bringing in younger audiences to sports,” says Minal Modha, consumer research lead at data and market research firm Ampere Analytics.
“Our consumer polling shows that 18-24 year olds consistently under-index in their enjoyment of sport, and if these video platforms can provide a way of engaging this group… they can actually be very complementary to most sport leagues.”
Since KSI and Logan Paul first fought in February 2018, some boxing traditionalists have worried that these celebrity contests draw attention away from more important fights and create the impression that it is easy to become a world-class boxer.
But Triller’s Fight Club will not necessarily threaten the status of high-profile world championship boxing matches.
“A platform like Triller is exciting because it shakes up the status quo, but I don’t think it will have an immediate impact on sports broadcasting,” says Modha.
“A lot of sport audiences are still a lot older and prefer to view via a TV.
“Where this can have a role to play is in introducing new and younger audiences to sports to help grow their future fan bases.”