Thursday, January 09, 2014

A network for those of us who wear facepaint on a regular basis

So after years of hearing rumors (and even more years of wondering “Wouldn’t this be a good idea”) they have finally announced the WWE network. I will admit that I wasn’t watching the announcement live as, well, I would like to say that watching corporate announcements are never that exciting but it is nice to know that there were a number of people that I knew at CES who could have stopped by and watched in person for me. As a wrestling fan for more than thirty years now I figure that I am as much of an expert as anyone else in explaining what this network means for you.

First off, this will not be a channel on your cable system. They are going the Hulu / Netflix / Roku model of an internet channel running on as an app on your PC / Kindle / Apple gadget. This is actually a really smart move on their part. I know they tried to get a cable channel up and running but there was no way they would make it into one of the basic tiers. Just think about how much of a struggle it has been for the NFL Network to gain a foothold. A WWE Network was going to be a niche product to begin with and they would have ended up as channel 387 and wouldn’t even be carried by most providers.

What the WWE is essentially offering a $10 / month subscription that will get you a) original programming, b) streaming access to the pay per views and c) access to their content vault. I’ll break these down in order.

The original programming portion is pretty meaningless. They claim that they will do a daily studio show, which I’m guessing might be interesting but will be tough to keep up day in and day out. They will do Top Ten countdown shows that should prove to be useful time burners. They’ve already filmed Legends House, which is the Real World with retired pro wrestlers and as a result may now be the only thing on television that is worse than the Real World. My only hope would be a return of the Legends Roundtable, which they used to have on WWE Classics on Demand. It was a show where you had five wrestling legends spend an hour talking about some vague topic like “Greatest Tag Teams of All Time” and sharing stories from the past few decades. Awesome for a long time fan and you got to hear some great stories about the old territory days. But again, right now you already have seven hours of wrestling on every week so you don’t need that much new material.

The pay per views is a huge deal and is done to address the fact that the entire pay per view market is dying a slow and painful death. It is a little known fact that wrestling has always been cutting edge from a technology standpoint: they were quick into the home video market, built the pay per view model and some of the first major portions of the internet were built around pro wrestling. What this means is that the wrestling fan today has figured out how to stream pay per views for free or has simply decided to not pay $60 tonight when he can find out all the results for free tomorrow. Even someone like me, who never uses the illegal streams, would never bother to pay for a pay per view because I always figured I could wait to find out if a match was good or not and then find the show. At ten bucks a month for a pay per view they have found a pretty good price point. If you buy two or three shows a year the network is pretty much a fair bet.

But in my mind the big carrot, especially to the long time fans like me, is access to the video library. The WWE owns something like 90% of all wrestling footage from the US that exists today. Really any match that you can think of they have the tape of it (unless they were too stupid to remember to tape the match. When my time machine is complete the first thing I am going to do is go back so I can see The Last Battle of Atlanta.) They have said that they will make every pay per view ever available for access plus a lot of other shows. It is the holy grail for hardcore wrestling fans. The fact that I could come home from work and let my brain shut off by watching a match from 1989 is something that I have hoped for for years.

I’ll wait a bit before I order it of course. I’m a little wary of the technical side of the equation, especially when it comes to the PPVs. I fully expect the system to crash multiple times upon launch. But while I have been pissed about how the WWE has been writing their shows for the past several years for once I think that they have done something right.

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