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Friday, February 21, 2014

WWE Network: Point/Counterpoint

By Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer

With countless hours of content from the WWE vault (including footage from WCW, ECW, the AWA, and dozens of major historical territories), as well as new content (such as the long-delayed reality show Legends House), the WWE Network seems like a dream-come-true for wrestling fans. Throw in every single pay-per-view, including WrestleMania, for just $10 per month, and it’s a no-brainer, right?

Sorry. I’m just not interested.

First of all, while it makes economic sense for WWE to offer the Network as a video streaming service, as opposed to a traditional television channel, that’s a turnoff to me. I already have Netflix and a Roku box with dozens of on-demand content at my disposal. I also have a premium cable TV package with hundreds of channels, where I can watch anything from Cheers re-runs to True Detective on HBO (maybe I’m more of a Woody Harrelson fan than I ever realized). I literally have thousands of options for content, and maybe an hour or two of viable TV time available per day.

If the WWE Network was airing vintage Mid-South footage or episodes of World Class Championship Wrestling, I might tune in and watch a bit before bedtime, instead of tuning into Comedy Central for a bit. I might set the DVR and watch a little on the weekend. But WWE isn’t offering that programming yet. It’s offering its library of pay-per-views from WWE, WCW, and ECW.

If I have a spare bit of time, I’m not going to choose to fill it by watching Goldberg and Lex Luger stink up the ring from Mayhem 2000. I’ve already seen most of those PPVs and have no interest in watching 90 percent of them again. And, if I did want to see any of those matches, I’m pretty sure I can find them on one of the many free video sharing sites out there. I know WWE’s legal team works hard to keep that content offline, but it’s not hard to find.

But you can get live WWE 12 PPVs for just $120 for the year. That’s roughly a $600 value right there, you might say.

True, if I planned to buy every single WWE PPV. I have no earthly intention of doing that. Does anyone remember the string of lousy PPVs at the tail end of 2013? WWE should be paying me to watch the 2013 Survivor Series.

The WWE Network is going to make WWE programming even more of a niche and take it out of the mainstream. I don’t see casual fans making the jump the way WWE expects them to. Ten bucks a month isn’t a lot, but entertainment dollars are hard to come by, and there are so many entertainment options out there that $120 a year to watch wrestling pay-per-views is a tough sell, especially when the market is flooded with so much WWE programming isvalready available on free TV. Skip the PPV and tune into Raw the next night; not only will you get a full rundown, but you’ll probably also see several rematches from the PPV, right there on free TV.

According to WWE’s estimates, it needs 2 million subscribers for the Network to be a major financial success. That’s twice as many people that buy WrestleMania. I don’t think that many people will be willing to sign up; remember, there are still a lot of people of who don’t have Internet access in this country, let alone a video streaming provider like Roku or X-Box. WWE is making a huge gamble. This time, I’m betting against them.

By Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer

Given all WWE has invested in its brand, it must continue to find ways to innovate and attract new fans in order to stay viable. YouTube exclusive programming, endless references to the WWE app, and even all the talk of trending on Twitter and social media are all attempts by WWE to stay ahead of the curve. The WWE Network is a major and, in my mind, very shrewd step in that direction.

Streaming video and internet-only programming represent the wave of the future. What WWE will be doing now starting Monday—streamlining some of its products and making them available independent of cable providers—is nothing short of cutting edge. Mark my words: You will see the HBOs and ESPNs of the world doing the same thing within the next five years. Is there a chance that some fans won’t bite, given the need for a tablet, streaming device, or other ìsmartî technology to watch the Network? Sure. For that matter, the moving of WWE’s weekly programming to cable probably alienated some fans. It also undoubtedly inspired others to subscribe to a cable service so that they wouldn’t miss the programming they were used to catching with their rabbit ear antennas. WWE’s younger fans are and will continue to be tech savvy, and WWE is wise to jump on the streaming bandwagon sooner than later.

Sure, there is already plenty of WWE programming available, even without the exclusive new and archival content promised by the Network. There are also, as Mr. Murphy mentions, only so many hours in the day to watch television. And yet, has this done anything to impede the success of Netflix, Hulu, Redbox, and various other convenient, new outlets for getting entertainment? No. It has only hurt those companies that have been unable to adapt, or those that increasingly cost too much money (looking at you, cable providers). A streaming service specifically for pro wrestling fans makes up for the dearth of in-ring content served up by other providers, and there is absolutely a market for this sort of thing.

Let’s consider what WWE Network offers. True, as my colleague says, it will not initially include much of the classic, regional programming now part of the WWE library. The service is just starting, though, and we will almost certainly be seeing World Class Championship Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and all the rest offered on the Network sometime soon. In the meantime, every WWE, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view is nothing to take lightly. If you can’t find something to enjoy in an archive of that caliber, then maybe pro wrestling isn’t for you.

Then, there is the inclusion of every pay-per-view in the subscription price. Sure, I will admit to not having any interest in some of WWE’s monthly events. But do the math. There is not a year goes by when I’m willing to miss The Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, or SummerSlam. That’s about $180 right there. So, even if I’m only watching three monthly pay-per-views—for some reason neglecting the service for the rest of the year while dutifully paying the bill for it—I’ve come out ahead of the $120 yearly tab. In practice, I have plenty of interest in the archival content, most of the other monthly pay-per-view events, and, yes, even programs like Legends House.

The impending launch of the WWE Network is a big gamble. It’s untested, and it needs a whole heap of subscribers to be a success. My bet is that they’ll get halfway there pretty quickly, and then Dan Murphy and the many more holdouts will come to their senses.

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