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EPIX makes move to improving streaming for Klitschko fight

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Wladimir Klitschko, Fritz Sdunek and Vitali Klitschko (AP)

Boxing fans have had a love-hate relationship over the last year with Epix, the premium cable movie network and online site that has picked up the feed of several major bouts emanating from Europe.

On March 19, 2011, Epix picked up the German feed of the Vitali Klitschko-Odlanier Solis heavyweight title fight that otherwise would have been unavailable in the U.S. It was available on TV, though given that Epix isn't included on DirecTV, Comcast and Cablevision, many around the country can't get it. So Epix included the broadcast free online at EpixHD.com, which it geoblocked for the U.S. audience only.

"You're not getting these free fights at HBO or Showtime," said Nora Ryan, the chief of staff at Epix.

Epix has another show on Saturday, picking up the Wladimir Klitschko-Jean Marc Mormeck bout from Dusseldorf, Germany, that begins at 4:30 p.m. ET and 1:30 p.m. PT. It is the third show from Europe on Epix in as many weeks. On Feb. 18, it aired the Vitali Klitschko-Dereck Chisora bout and on Feb. 25, it broadcast the heavyweight match between Alexander Povetkin and Marco Huck.

The problem for the fans watching online was that the stream couldn't accommodate the audience it was attracting.

Fans who watched online have complained bitterly that Epix's streaming was buffering frequently. Ryan admitted that the network was surprised by the demand. She wouldn't give exact numbers, but said online viewers for the fights have "been in the hundreds of thousands."

She said that Epix is primarily a movie-on-demand service. When a customer wants to watch a movie, there aren't hundreds of thousands of others generally watching it at the same time and it streams smoothly. But the fights attracted many viewers and the servers got overloaded.

"We're re-engineering how it works," Ryan said. "Basically, what we had was like a small turnstile with too many people trying to go through it at once. Simply managing that huge amount of traffic because an issue. We moved to a different vendor to provide a better experience."

Epix switched to Akamai for the Povetkin-Huck fight and, though there were a few issues with the stream, it was far better. She said Epix has been working closely with Akamai and expects Saturday's stream to be the best offered yet.

"This is something we're committed to getting right, and we need our [viewers] to love the picture," she said. "We don't want it be less than a perfect experience, and that means not having buffering, starting and stopping or a less than beautiful picture."

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