The Magnificent Seven 2.23.14: 7 Potential Issues The WWE Network Needs to Avoid
Posted by Mike Chin on 02.23.2014
From letting nostalgia override the current product to holding back on the video library and more, 411’s Mike Chin breaks down the top 7 potential issues the WWE Network needs to avoid…
The WWE Network launches Monday, and like so many wrestling fans I'm eager to partake in everything the it will have to offer. But will the launch be successful? And will this new business model work in the long run? Everything from the advertised programming to the price point makes it sound like a slam dunk to me, but there some pitfalls WWE should avoid to give this product its best chance for success.
#7. Overselling the Network at the Expense of the Rest of WWE
In its new Network, WWE may have the most compelling platform to sell its product since Vince McMahon first capitalized on the cable TV and pay per-view booms of the 1980s. While the subscription service will be a product WWE needs to sell, I wary of the sales pitch overwhelming the rest of what WWE is doing.
The test case for me is the WWE App. For months we've heard Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler extol the wonders of the App, talking about how easy it is to download and going so far as to offer on-air demonstrations of how to do so. The reality of the App is that it's a perfectly functional little tool that could have been sold just as—nay, more--effectively by only bringing it up when WWE was actively calling on its fans to vote on something during a live show. Heck, the only reason I downloaded the thing in the first place was to vote for Bob Backlund to get a guest referee spot.
It is fine, and even important for WWE to dedicate some time to making sure its fan base is aware of the WWE Network and selling us on what it has to offer. But when commentators are putting over the Network at the expense of paying attention to the talents working in the ring, you have a problem. Fans watch wrestling for the wrestling, not for the purpose of watching an infomercial. Let the quality of the current product sell fans on wanting to celebrate everything else the WWE Network has to offer. That leads to my second point…
#6. Letting Nostalgia Override the Current Product
I consider myself a bit of a wrestling historian and as such, access to a complete catalog of past WWE, WCW, and ECW PPVs is the single biggest selling point the WWE Network has to offer. That said, WWE needs to be careful about not allowing more popular periods like the Attitude Era or Rock N Wrestling to overshadow what's going on in today's WWE. That's the double-edged sword of celebrating your own history—giving fans access to all of your best material, but at the same time diminishing the chances for contemporary stars to blaze their own trails.
This may seem like a silly concern, but when aforementioned PPV library, a series focused on The Monday Night War, and Legends House are some of the network's early drawing cards, it is a concern worth mentioning. WWE will need to invest more energy in selling the current product, including more programming around today's roster and happenings.
#5. Holding Back on the Library
I imagine that WWE has competing impulses between offering up a truly complete collection of past shows (the AWA, Mid-South, and WCCW libraries stand out among those net yet tapped for the Network) and holding back to still have something new to offer down the road. I can appreciate the interest in saving some stuff for later, but I hope WWE will be less concerned about a strategic roll out and more invested in offering subscribers the most comprehensive experience possible, before too long offering up major shows from every catalog the company owns, and then expanding into TV episodes. That level of access will allow fans to truly relive full eras, and meets my idealistic vision of young and old fans alike truly getting to explore the history of the pro wrestling form.
#4. Pulling Back the Curtain Too Far
We stand at an interesting juncture in wrestling history when fans who want behind-the-scenes stories have unprecedented access via the Internet dirt sheets, tell-all books, documentaries, and shoot interviews. At this point, though, fans still need to actively seek full stories, thus, while smarks abound, I'd have to say the majority of regular audience knows wrestling is fixed but knows little of the backstage machinations or trivia that the IWC thrives on.
With a WWE-produced product built to be accessible to as many fans as possible, WWE Network reality shows and talk shows run a risk of getting too smarky for their own good. Pull back the curtain for a discerning fan with the disposable income to buy DVDs and memoirs, and it may help you retain that fan's interest. Put the same access in the hands of any kid who's old man gets a subscription and you risk blowing wrestling's illusions too early and hurting the long-term appeal of the product, not to mention embroiling wrestling in general in enough of a shoot-intensive environment that there's no suspending disbelief for more seasoned fans.
#3. Not Letting Current Talents Contribute
In 2011, Zack Ryder made an unlikely rise to prominence based on his savvy use of YouTube and Twitter to self-promote. WWE pretty soundly squandered the man's novel approach to getting himself over, and while it may be too late for Ryder to recover all of his traction, I hope WWE will learn from what worked about his approach.
For the Network, WWE seeks to combine an on-demand service with regularly scheduled programming. There are quite a few hours in any given day, thus I think it would be a huge missed opportunity not to let current talents use the Network as a vehicle to try to get themselves over a la Z! True Long Island Story. There's so little risk to failed show on this platform, and huge potential for the talent with the right creative capabilities to do something new and blaze an innovative trail that will not only help himself, but help feed the WWE Network.
#2. Weakening PPVs
This may be the most obvious pitfall that so many of us have discussed, but it is a real concern. We excuse middling WWE TV because we know one of its primary functions is to sell PPVs and, to a lesser extent nowadays, tickets to live shows. And some of us accept middling secondary PPVs because we know the best stuff gets saved for Wrestlemania and SummerSlam. So what happens when all of these PPVs, once valued at upwards of fifty dollars a pop, are now included in ten-dollar monthly subscriptions?
I stated earlier that the classic PPV catalog is the top selling point of the Network for me, but the inclusion of current PPVs, live, is a surprisingly close second. In my adult life, I've bought ‘Mania every year and, typically one or two additional shows on a case-by-case basis. The idea of not having to pick and choose PPVs and the ability follow the product more fully and less expensively is exciting, and ten dollars per month PPV alone strikes me as a more or less fair deal. But buying into this set up calls on WWE to hold up its end of the bargain. PPV pay outs may not be as significant, but if the company hopes to retain subscribers and attract new ones, it will be key to offer them pay-per-views at at least the level they have already come to expect—much more than glorified episodes of Raw and Smackdown, but rather legitimate big-time shows.
#1. Trying to Put the Genie in the Bottle
I am following the masses in agreeing to subscribe for WWE's minimum six-month subscription. As such, I'm going to be pretty pissed if WWE changes the deal after I sign on. It's to be expected that some details will change—the price will eventually go up, schedules may vary, and I'm fully expecting a grace period during which WWE has to adjust to deal with bandwidth issues. All of that said, if WWE tries to change the core pieces of its Network model—e.g., not including all PPVs or limiting access to the archives—I have a feeling that I won't be the only fan to feel like the kid Ted Dibiase kicked a basketball away from—cheated, deceived, and more than a little dissatisfied. In trying to indoctrinate such a large percentage of its audience into a monthly subscription service, WWE needs to put its customers first. Make no mistake about it, the Network represents a change in how WWE does business—and I'll support them as long as I feel supported in return.
Will you subscribe to the WWE Network? What pitfalls do you foresee? Leave your comments below. See you in seven.
Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and his thoughts on a cappella music at The A Cappella Blog. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.