Wikipedia has a bit about the history of it in the US
- the first attempt way back in 1951 was rejected by the FCC, but the Thriller in Manilla in 1975 was the first major pay-per-view boxing events. No information about the history in the UK but I guess Sky threw the money around in the early nineties.
I think there were limited experiments with horse racing and films in the 1960s on the small scale cable systems in the UK. The government wouldn’t allow them to expand so it never developed from there.
Sky’s first PPV event was the Bruno v Tyson fight in 1996.
In late 1997 they started offering films for £3 around six months before they were shown on Sky Movies / The Movie Channel. The cable companies started their own offering not long after.
Concerts were a sporadic and eclectic offering but I can remember Simply Red, Steps, Cliff Richard being amongst the acts people were asked to cough up £9.99 to watch live. There was a Robbie Williams concert not long after HD launched (so 2006), I can’t remember many being advertised since then. Not all concerts Sky had during that time were PPV though, quite a few were on Sky 1- I can remember Oasis at Wembley in 2000 being shown on Sky 1 the same night it was taking place, on an hour or so delay.
Not sure when the wrestling PPVs started (not my thing), in the 1990s I think they were all on Sky Sports - having started on Sky Movies Plus before Sky Sports became a premium channel. There was a period in the early 2000s where what were US PPVs were split between Sky Sports and Channel 4 (the latter on delay with ads), I think half of them went onto PPV when Sky got them all back. As for MMA I think UFC have regular PPVs but they are on BT Sport in the UK as far as I know.
The first PPV football match in the UK was a football league Division 1 (as was) game on Sky Box Office in the late 90s. It ended up a 0-0 draw and there were no more until the Premier Leage sold a package of PPV games from the 2001 season. NTL bought them (to be available on all platforms) but handed then back when they realised they’d never make their money back and the Premier League got Sky to produce the coverage and sold them to each provider (with ‘ITV Sport Select’ doing their own pre and post match coverage for the one season they existed). Even during the first season you could buy a ‘season ticket’ that worked out at about £1 per game, much cheaper than the £8 per game to buy individually. When the next deal was done Sky bought the rights direct and just made the amount of games they were allowed to (50 I think) PPV. They were never the biggest games, the games on Sky Sports were the first picks, these were the additional games. In effect they became the package Setanta bought.
As for the US its worth realising that that before PPV the biggest boxing fights were on the whole only shown live in ‘theatres’ on ‘closed circuit television’. (I believe one of the reasons it started was to get the venues full on quiet mid week nights, so many of the biggest boxing matches all the way through to the 80/ took place on mid week nights.) So there wasn’t the history (as in this country) of them being on FTA TV. It appears home PPV started along side and eventually took over from the fights being shown in cinemas. HBO came along and showed some as part of their subscription channel (as they and Showtime still do for lower profile fights) before home PPV took off in the 80s and 90s.
I have heard that in the 1970s some of the very biggest fights - Muhammad Ali ones in particular - were shown live in a small number of cinemas in the UK. This, I think, was largely down to the cost of the live rights to the BBC or ITV being too much to justify when judged on the number of people who would watch it live. The BBC had shown the Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay as he was at the time) v Sonny Liston fight live in 1964 - the first boxing match to be shown live via satellite. (The US ‘theatre’ coverage mentions it being shown in some cinemas in Europe as well.) Something like 4 million people watched it live but then an even bigger number watched the repeat that evening. So why pay for the live rights (and technical expense of showing it at 4am) when many more people would watch it the following evening. Different times and all that! That approach held through even until the first Bruno v Tyson fight in 1989 - broadcast live on Radio 2 but shown on BBC 1 (to a big audience) the following afternoon. (Although that fight was one of the first big events Sky showed live.)
Big fights in the UK (although not the ‘infamous’ Ali v Henry Cooper fight I don’t think) tended to be live on FTA until Sky signed up Frank Warren (the key UK promoter at the time) in 1995. The BBC gradually moved away as the prices went up but ITV had carried on with delyed coverage of big US fights and the likes of Bruno and Eubank live - although only ever the main fight.