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Why is the UFC worth as much as ‘Star Wars’? Live, of course.

It’s an on-demand world, but the entertainment business wants you watching stuff on its schedule.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The Internet lets you watch whatever you want, whenever you want to watch it, no matter when anyone else is watching it.

Which means that things you can only see live, at the same time as everyone else, are more valuable than ever.

You’ve known this for a while, but you got a $4 billion reminder today, when Hollywood agents WME, backed by a bunch of private equity firms, bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship — a league that makes almost all of its money from live fights.

To put that in context, in 2012, Disney bought the rights to all past, present and future “Star Wars” movies by buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion. (Quick! Someone get Chewbacca in the octagon!)

But that deal is four years old, you say? Okay, here’s a current comp: Earlier this year, Comcast* paid $3.8 billion to acquire DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind giant franchises like “Shrek” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”

To put it in sharper context: Last year, DreamWorks generated more than $900 million in revenue. If you take the UFC at its word**, last year it generated $600 million in revenue.

And to really spell it out for you: The UFC is an entertainment company whose assets lose most of their value as soon as the public sees them. DreamWorks Animation makes movies — 32 and counting — that can be sold and resold for decades. They can also be turned into ancillary revenue like theme park rides, video games and plush toys.

Today’s deal says the UFC’s revenue stream is worth more than DreamWorks’. Because live.

You’re smart, so you don’t need the boilerplate paragraph explaining why investors and media companies value live right now (keywords: advertising, attention, ratings, cable, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

If you need another refresher course, stay tuned and watch for the reports about ESPN’s upcoming deal with the ACC, where the sports programmer is likely to pay a big premium over its last deal with the college sports league. Just like ESPN did when it renewed its deal with the Big 10 last month.

Meanwhile, if you want to engage in looking at things that are not live, here’s my 2002*** profile of the UFC — one my favorite stories I’ve written.

* Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

** Which is something you should think about, since the UFC repeatedly denied reports that they were selling themselves over the least two months, when in fact they were doing just that; the dissembling continued up through last week. In the real world, we call this “lying”; in business journalism, this is standard practice, and no one cares. Go figure.

*** I am old!

This article originally appeared on

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