Truths And Lies 1.11.14: WWE Network - Success Or Bust?
Posted by Justin Watry on 01.11.2014
How will the WWE Network look in 2015 and beyond? Should we expect a price increase at some point? Should WrestleMania be included? How does this change their PPV and TV business? 411's Justin Watry takes a look!
They did it.
After years and years of indecision, the WWE Network is finally ready to launch. Starting on February 24th, it will go live across the United States. I read over on Twitter that somebody called this a "Second Christmas" for wrestling fans. While the praise was high and heavy after the initial announcement, there are always two sides to every coin.
While I am as positive as anybody when dealing with the WWE and their choices, this is a big story. Not just a big story within the circle of their company but a BIG story covering the entire industry. What I will do here is go through (using the WWE issued FAQ as a guide) every single potential issue. Without further introduction, here we go...
Note: This is lengthy with lots of text. You have been warned!
What is WWE Network?
It is every single wrestling fan's dream come true. When this was originally thought to be launching, the questions spanned all over. What would be featured? When would shows air? Is there a timed, set schedule of programming? How would you be able to purchase? Do pay-per-view events air there? Who? What? Where? When?
Well, the answer to all of that is YES! Okay, that may not sound right...but the point stands. Whatever you want, the WWE Network will carry it in some form. Episodes of Raw and Smackdown? Yes. PPV shows live? Yes. New count down shows and exclusive features? Yes. Scheduled programs as well as an on demand service? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes!
How much will a subscription to WWE Network cost?
This will follow the method used by UFC Fight Pass. The price will be $9.99 per month (plus tax). For WWE, the catch is that you must commit to a six month subscription right off the bat. That way, fans can NOT just be there for January or March or April or August. Sorry, that will not work here. You have to go six months to six months. For example, if you plan to jump on board on February 24th, that will cost you $60 until August. Again, it is $9.99 per month...but not month to month. There will be a one week free trial. My best suggestion is to try that out, if you are still nervous over anything. The obvious next question is if the price will ever increase. Truth be told, I do expect a $5 increase at some point in the next few years, as well as "extras" like video games do with downloadable content. An extra dollar for this. An extra two bucks for this. An extra five for this. Got it? Good, now get your head out of the gutter...
How do fans purchase WWE Network?
You head on over to WWE.com starting on February 24th at 9 a.m. The constant plugs and huge count clock will find you right away. There is no way to miss that. In my opinion, this is a misstep by WWE. I would be taking subscriptions and orders RIGHT NOW! Like immediately after the announcement Wednesday night. The buzz and excitement was definitely felt last week, and the numbers seen on Youtube (and elsewhere) point to tons of viewers ready. Now! By delaying it another month and letting fans doubt the process, you are creating a possible 'wait and see' approach. Make no mistake, if the sign-ups started on Wednesday night, there would be a huge surge in business. To do it all on the same day as launch, I am already seeing this as a problem.
When can fans buy WWE Network?
As noted above, you can go to WWE.com on February 24th at 9 a.m. I do not like that approach. Just to throw around some numbers. Say 100,000 people up front ordered it on January 8th when it was announced, that would be a good starting point. That gave WWE another month or so to collect any more. Then when the entire thing launched the day after Elimination Chamber, you would see even MORE fans jump at the deal. If you do not think WWE is going to pull of some huge surprise at Elimination on February 23rd or even Raw the next night, you are kidding yourself. My early prediction is The Undertaker returns, and WWE promises some big update on the WWE Network...if you subscribe. See how that works? There is going to be a major development, and it will force fans to buy the WWE Network for more. Again, my early prediction is Taker comes back either at the Chamber or Raw with the tease of an explanation exclusively on the WWE Network on February 24th. Smart.
When will WWE Network be available?
The first LIVE glimpse will be at 11:06 p.m. after Raw on February 24th. Again, this is also the night after the Elimination Chamber PPV event. WWE will have a Raw post-show airing on their network. If you follow my idea, that would be the place for an Undertaker update or possible interview. Doubtful due to his character, but the company will have to pull out all the stops, so anything is plausible for this to be a success. If you want the on demand service, that will be available right at 9 a.m. when you subscribe. Technically, you could be watching their network all morning and afternoon leading to Raw on the USA Network and then back to the WWE Network for the Raw post-show. Wow, what a Monday!
What devices will WWE Network be available on?
Desktop and laptops with WWE.com, through the beloved WWE App including Amazon's Kindle Fire devices, Android devices, iOS devices, Roku streaming devices; Sony PS3 and Sony PS4; and Xbox 360. Select Smart TVs and Xbox One will join this summer. As always, WWE directs you to their website for more information. For me, I am looking at Roku or even WWE.com as the best option. Of course, it depends on what device YOU own. Everybody will follow a different path. I know a lot of folks were looking forward this being on cable television, but we will get to that. Hold tight!
If fans already have the WWE App, do they need to update it to get WWE Network?
I do not have the WWE App, but according to the company, it will automatically update to IOS and Android mobile devices. For the other outlets, fans must download the new WWE App on February 24th for their network. Seems simple enough? This goes into a whole other discussion: How are long-time, older fans going to access the WWE Network? I know, I know. Spare me the obvious answer. Streaming online and Netflix is the future! Cable TV is dying! PPV is going away! Blah, blah, blah. Great, I get that...but do you really think the older demographic own cell phones? Or even know what Roku is? Or using their Xbox 360, assuming they own the system? Of course not. This is great news for younger wrestling fans. I just wonder how much money is being left on the table from others who are not-so-technologically advanced.
What content will WWE Network feature?
Everything you can imagine. Shows will run on a schedule like any other channel as well as have a huge on demand library. WWE will show ALL monthly PPV events. Yes, including the expensive WrestleMania XXX coming up in April. There will be count downs, documentaries, specials, daily live studios shows (coming in the summer), reality shows, uncensored and uncut WCW and ECW events, as well as replays of Raw and Smackdown. Those may be like Hulu, in just showing the best parts of Raw and Smackdown - not in its entirety. Like a lot of this network, I am sure a lot will change. No different than Netflix. Movies come and go each month and keep things fresh with new material. Also for those wondering, WWE plans to take down a bunch of videos from Youtube. Sorry! Can't just mooch forever and illegal steal content. This deal is TOO GOOD to still just refuse to support the company with your dollars.
Will WrestleMania be available as a part of this subscription?
Yes, it will. In MY opinion though, it won't be next year or the year after or however long this thing lasts for. WWE knows their network must launch in a major way. They can't just do everything in a half-hearted effort. For that, WrestleMania XXX must be included. It shows they are serious and also will rope in the "once a year casual audience." Here is where it gets tricky. The starting cost is $10 a month but only at six months per buy. Thus, you are basically buying WMXXX at full price anyways with the $60 price tag. The rumored (yes, rumored) number is WWE needs 800,000 or 1,000,000 subscribers to break even. Well, guess what the buy rate of Mania is usually each year? Yep, one million. If they can translate that initial bump in business coming on February 24th to carry over for six months, this may work. Once the casual fans disappear, I am not sure how viable it will be to have your golden ticket (WM buys) remain on the WWE Network. I could be wrong, but do not be shocked if Mania is included ONLY for 2014.
Will encores of RAW, SmackDown and Main Event be on WWE Network?
I touched on this briefly. The rumor is that Raw, Smackdown, and Main Event encores (replays) will be shown on the WWE Network but not in full. It will be like their current Hulu deal where only the main segments and matches are shown. Thus, the filler videos are cut. Pointless two minute matches are cut. Backstage interviews may be cut. In other words, some fans may actually LIKE the edited versions more than the full editions. Get rid of the fluff and only see the goods...but I do wonder how USA Network, Spike TV, Fox Sports1, ION, Sy-Fy or any other channel bidding on Raw, Smackdown, and Main Event feel about this. By all accounts, WWE is going to get PAID big time for their next TV deal. I am curious to see if these networks may offer less (or more?) because of the aspect of encores being shown on the WWE Network. Keep an eye out for this revelation.
Will Pay-Per-View events still be available outside WWE Network?
For fans who do not like watching stuff on their laptop or mobile device, do not worry. You can still order PPV events through normal cable providers. As mentioned, the older generation may not even know what an Xbox system is. Well, there is still the option to just click "Buy" on your TV remote...like folks have done in the past. No change there. For WWE, the days of WM hitting one million buys through normal means is over. Long over. The days of even hitting 200,000 buys for the off-brand PPV through cable is over. All of THOSE buys are supposed to merge into Network subscribers. You have to remember. WWE gets only half of a PPV buy. The other half is split with the cable company. Basically, WWE is cutting out the middle man and getting any profit coming their way. Thus, you have to do the math on how it all adds up. While WWE is certainly sacrificing a lot of dollars up front on the PPV market, the hope and belief is the WWE Network even more by subscribers and no cable company to cut profits in half. Only time well tell how that goes...
Will classic WWE content be available on WWE Network?
How many of you never stop going off about how great ECW was? Or the good ol days of WCW Nitro? Or the precious Attitude Era that is so perfect? Well, stop searching Youtube, Daily motion, or any of the illegal streaming sites. It is all right here for you. Classic WWE, ECW, and ECW programs will be the bread and butter of this, in my opinion. We can watch Raw every Monday night on the USA Network. We can watch Smackdown on Sy-Fy Fridays. However, some of those uncut and uncensored episodes of Raw and Smackdown from the past are hard to come by. WWE has the full tape library and many other companies under their watch. Why do you think they purchase all those tape libraries? To show them off! Now is their chance. New programming will be added regularly, so it is a never ending buffet of wrestling.
Will Superstars and NXT air on WWE Network?
Yes, the WWE press releases notes that 'premiere' episodes of NXT and Superstars will air on the WWE Network. Make of that what you will. It can confusing sometimes to translate what is meant by their carefully worded statements. I do not watch Superstars, so that is not my cup of tea. Considering it no longer shows top stars (like it used to), I will pass. For NXT? I do not watch that either, BUT here is the good news! When WWE unveiled their plans for the network, one of the spotlights was put squarely on NXT. It was really put over like a million bucks. In my mind, that was pandering to the internet fans who love their newcomers, indy wrestlers, and young untested roster. That was just SCREAMING for the IWC to take notice and spend $10 a month. Well, take notice. NXT will be shown on the WWE Network.
Will RAW, SmackDown and Main Event move to WWE Network?
No, they will air on their respective channels. Where that will be come late 2014 or early 2015 is still to be determined. Remember that big TV deal is coming due, and somebody is going to have to shell out big bucks for WWE programming. As covered, encores of these shows will air on the WWE Network - edited down to only the 'best' parts.
Will shows on WWE Network be available in HD?
The bad quality of illegal streams? The hit or miss quality of Youtube? Forget it. The WWE Network will be shown in HD. No more blurry visuals or disgruntled screen shots. Clear and clean right in front of your eyes! There really is no downside to this at all.
Will shows on WWE Network be available in Spanish?
Only the live PPVs will be available in Spanish. Everything else will be in English. Once again, WWE has all of this covered. I keep looking for faults here or any negative note to discuss. Love WWE or hate WWE, this thing looks to be a home run at face value. Now when it starts up and all that, fine. Go wild and dissect every little detail. Just on the surface though, is there anything important that WWE missed?
Will shows be closed captioned?
Yes, indeed. Just read what I wrote above about WWE covering all their bases.
Will WWE Network also be available through cable or satellite providers?
No, all of the outlets used can be found above in the earlier questions. When this entire adventure was first announced, I thought there was NO WAY an 'over the top' method would be profitable. In my mind, the WWE Network had to be on cable or some kind of television channel. As we moved past 2012 and 2013, I started to warm to the idea of a Netflix-like model. Clearly, folks will pay a (fairly) cheap fee for a vast library of footage if it tickles their fancy. All wrestling, all the time. Even if you can't find that on TV like a regular channel, there are enough options to make this work...if the demand is there. We know the supply is there.
Will all of the programming that premieres on WWE Network also be available via on demand?
Yes, indeed. Once you can access, everything will be ready for on-demand. Pretty neat. I do have a concern though. How quickly will the novelty wear off? No doubt, the first few days will be awesome. Like noted - a Second Christmas! Then a week will pass. Then another few weeks. Then a month or two. That is where all this programming will be tested. Yes, the Raw and Smackdown pre and post shows will constantly be fresh every week. Yes, the monthly PPV events are huge. What else is there to tune in for after four or five months? More documentaries? More count down shows? More WCW Nitro episodes? You see what I mean? At some point, there will be a road block. Not in hours of content. WWE has that covered. I mean in terms of what to watch next. Keep in mind: WWE has to attract a bunch of casual fans to keep watching and not just the die hards who will be jumping for joy over this.
How quickly will content that premieres on WWE Network be made available on demand?
Immediately. That is mostly discussed above. By all accounts, programming will not just appear then disappear. Every single segment/special/count down/whatever will stay put. Certainly a good thing for repeat viewing.
Does WWE Network programming contain advertisements?
Mostly, it will be commercial free. However, WWE does note that some programs will have limited promotional content. I think this is the correct way to go. You satisfy fans by delivering (mostly) commercial free programming. However, keep in mind that the company still needs to make money somehow. If a big corporation wants to jump on board and air commercials, do not be surprised. As long as it does not become out of control, nobody should be upset with a rare commercial or advertisement.
Is the entire WWE library available through on demand?
The launch will carry over 1,500 hours of footage, plus all WWE, WCW, and ECW PPV events. New programming will be added regularly. The question is not really answered by WWE. Is the ENTIRE library going to be featured? I would assume at some point, yes. Right off the bat, no. They want to keep things fresh. Remember, this is a long-term vision. WWE does not want subscribers just for the first six months...then unsubscribe. Let's say the one million goal is met by WMXXX. How many of those will stay past August? 900,000? 800,000? You see, the content has to keep people going year after year after year. If you throw it all out there right away, there would be nothing left after six months or a year.
Will WWE Network be available internationally?
Not on February 24th. That will only be for the United States. WWE says United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Nordics will get their network by late 2014/early 2015. Of course, that is only scheduled. Who knows how thing will change before then? For overseas wrestling fans, I would stay patient. Just saying. WWE may be all set for a late 2014 launch, but it also me be delayed time and time again. There are going to be a lot of moving parts come February. Success or bust, I see changes coming in nearly every single aspect of the WWE Network within a year.
Will all content on WWE Network be PG?
No. It varies from PG to TV-14 all the way to TV-MA, although I really wonder what that is for. For the sake of being fair, WWE will offer up parental controls with the on-demand content. As covered, I think how thought out this all is. From top to bottom, all their bases have been handled very well. For older fans, the whining and crying over the PG rating can officially stop. The 2014 Raw and Smackdown will stay the same, but with thousands and thousands of past programming at your disposal, there is nothing to complain about.
Can parental controls be set-up on WWE Network?
Yes, you can block TV-14 and TV-MA content on-demand. The live 24/7 streaming will be viewer discretion. Just going by memory, what would be rated TV-MA? I am curious. I know the ECW documentary was. Maybe a few blood filled episodes of ECW on TNN maybe? Or their PPV events? I am really trying to think. Does Legends House get out of control or something? Regardless, there are parental controls available.
Who can fans call or email today if they have questions?
According to WWE, you can call Customer Service on Monday, February 24 at 9 am ET by calling 1-866-308-5684. Also, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org on that day. Additional FAQs and a live chat service will also be available on February 24th. Again, this is going to be a misstep. Why not open this up now? You know people have a million questions about the WWE Network. Not every single fan reads online news stories. As we know, a SMALL minority of their fanbase keeps up to date with all the happenings. I can only imagine casual fans panicking and rushing through this process on February 24th. All in one day is just asking for a disaster. My suggestion was outlined earlier in the column, but all of this should be taking place NOW...not on the day of the launch.
Success Or Bust?
For years, I have doubted this working out. For years, I have said what a disaster this will turn out to be. For year, that has been my line of thinking. Now that I see everything on paper and know the features, my prediction shifts...just a little. To begin, my prediction is moderate success. Not a ton. Not a huge coup but enough to make a profit. After six months or even a year, that is where the true test lies. I have no doubt a $5 price hike is coming, or WrestleMania 31 not being featured or certain shows not being replayed, or whatever. Tweaks and changes will be key entering 2015. Either it will help or will hurt the future of this working. Never forget. WWE Superstars in 2009 started off with The Undertaker wrestling in the main event. XFL debuted to record numbers. Main Event premiered in 2012 with Sheamus vs. CM Punk in a World Champ vs. WWE Champ match. The examples are endless. WWE loves to roll out the carpet to start out a project. Keeping that going and lasting the test of time is an entirely different story.
What do you folks think? WWE Network - success or bust? Let me know...