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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WWE Network: Early Observations

Some e-mails exchanges between PWI reporters through the first 30 hours of the new WWE Network era:

Louie D: I went out and bought a Roku last night (we had been wanting one anyway) so I could get the Network. It took me three hours to actually be able to sign up, but I'm watching WrestleMania 3, so it was worth it.

Louie D: Looks like no blurring/grayscale/etc. of blood is true. Just watched Billy Jack Haynes get busted open by Hercules and there is, as Gorilla Monsoon says, blood "pouring out of the forehead" of Haynes.

Louie D: Hillbilly Jim's music is the random banjo music they used on the WM Anthology DVD and not "Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy" so I guess music rights issues are still a problem. Takes away a little bit in some instances, but again, beggars can't be choosers there.

Gerry Strauss: Just curious … within PPVs, etc., can you select specific matches to watch or do you have to scan through the whole shows?

Louie D: I'm on my laptop right now … clicked on WM3 and it played from the beginning, but I can "fast forward" the clip to anywhere in the show.

Al Castle: It took forever to get signed up (For once, I wanted to give WWE my money, and they wouldn't take it.) Up and running now, and it's pretty great. You can search by a wrestler's name or a match stipulation. Right now they're showing the awesome Bret-Shawn rivalry DVD. I'm the proverbial kid in a candy store. On my Roku 3, the picture is amazing. Better than when I get through my cable provider.

Mike Bessler: I just signed up and went right to WrestleMania III. Billy Jack vs. Hercules is one of my favorite underappreciated WM matches ever. I mean … wow! I still have my doubts about whether or not the model will work in the long run (I think it's bound to drive pro wrestling into a much smaller niche market at the end of the day), but speaking just as a fan, this feels like a dream.

Stu Saks: Why do you say that, Mike? Won’t more people watch their big events now?

Mike Bessler: On the PPV side, there is really a loss of incentive for fans to come together to watch the shows, either at home or at sports bars, etc. So that's one area where WWE will likely lose the ability to win over the kind of potential fans who are invited to experience wrestling collectively with devotees of the genre. WWE also loses the motivation to introduce a lot of new programming via conventional markets like cable television, which—whether Vince likes it or not—is still a medium of choice for millions and millions of fans. And the DVD market will, in all likelihood, take a humongous hit and eventually wither away with the emphasis on the network, so there will be less collecting and gift-giving of media in its tangible form. More merchandising with less emphasis on the primary product seems like a very unbalanced approach to me. All in all, I think the network caters well to true believers but leads the business into to into a bottleneck of a limited, pay to play fan base that doesn't do much to bring new fans into the fold. Still … pretty cool. Moved on to KOTR '93. I was totally at that show.

Kevin McElvaney: For what it's worth, I'm still planning to have a WrestleMania party at my place this year. (Who's bringing spinach dip?) You can watch the Super Bowl alone, too, but a social event is a social event.

Louie D: Me too, but remember three things, Kev: Umpteen million watch the Super Bowl but 10 percent of that watch the NFL on any given week, but that number is much, much smaller during the season—and part of that is because a lot of people watch at a bar or in a huge group at home to be part of the atmosphere as much as the game; the key for wrestling is keeping those people interested and having them come back for an Extreme Rules or Payback party. Two, in the same vein, if I'm a guy who is a casual watcher but cares little about the classic or ancillary content and knows a good friend has the network and thus every PPV (and likely will be like “hey, c'mon over and watch”), what's my incentive to give WWE any of my money? And, three, I don't know if they still do this everywhere, but my local Buffalo Wild Wings would still order all WWE PPVs simply because even if only one party comes in to watch but spends $20-$30 per head over the course of a night, it's a win. Either way, that exposes new fans to WWE in the fact that other people in BWW could theoretically watch. But now, can/will those places still want to do that, when tech-savvy people can pay $10 a month instead of $45 (or $30-plus at a BWW-type place) and watch at home —and even if they do, what if they have DirecTV or Dish or a cable company that decides to say "screw WWE, we're not carrying their events"? All that said, one area where I think the Network may actually help bring "new" fans is by bringing back old ones. A good friend of mine hasn't watched current programming in probably five years or more, but is subscribing to the network simply for the classic content; he says that now, but isn't there a chance he'll watch NXT, or Raw postgame show, or any other "current" event and maybe get the itch to check out Raw or Smackdown because of it?

Kevin McElvaney: No doubt. If your friend already pays the $10 per month, and you simply want to catch the pay-per-views, you might opt not to subscribe yourself. I was only countering what Mike said about the cheap subscription fee being something that might discourage group viewing habits. I don't think that'll necessarily be the case, although I can't imagine groups getting together for a Payback party. The Rumble, though, would probably be a weird thing to watch by oneself, so I guess it depends. A compelling event is a compelling event.

As far as I know, the pay-per-view Blast Zones (like Buffalo Wild Wings) are going to stay operational. There's a communal aspect to those, as well. Whether or not they'll stay active long term is another question entirely.

Louie D: Watching Survivor Series 1990—Hogan just said WWF, so I guess that piece of litigation is also now in the past.

Al Castle: Yeah that's been the case for about a year now. They can also show the old scratch logo now too. A lot of the legal stuff seems so arbitrary. On the HBK Mr. WrestleMania DVD I just bought, all the Ventura commentary is erased. But they're showing ’Mania 1 right now with Ventura on it.

Kevin McElvaney: Has anyone else been running into access problems with the Network? I only attempted to use it for the first time last night, following Raw, but I had no luck playing any videos. My guess is that bandwidth issues are going to be a major thing in the early stages of the launch. I can only hope we won't see streaming inconsistencies during WrestleMania and other future events.

Al Castle: I've only been able to watch the live stream, and some of the on demand selection of original shows. I haven't been able to pull up any of the archived PPVs on my Rokus. I always get a timed out error message.

Mike Bessler: I've had decent luck. The buffering issues during the afternoon yesterday thwarted my efforts at watching KOTR '93, but I watched a lot of WM 17 last night. Some of the delays and skipping is frustrating, but I'm sure it will improve.

Louie D: I had the same problems as Al last night on my Roku … only the live stream would work. I also noticed that not all of the PPVs would show up, either. In addition, this may just be a settings thing, but I couldn't even watch the ECW Hardcore TV that was on the live stream because it kept telling me my parental controls wouldn't allow it.

Al Castle: I've also noticed at least one missing PPV: Great American Bash 1991. How am I supposed to get my Skywalkers 2 fix?

Louie D: I've been going through Ron Simmons vs. Oz withdrawal for 23 years now! I didn't have a handful of WrestleManias or SummerSlams, which was weird. And nothing from like 2002-08.

Stu Saks: The Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart documentary starts and stops on my iPad more than a Larry Zbyszko match. Very frustrating.

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