Thursday, January 9, 2014

WWE Network

Yes, it's big enough for me to bring the blog out of retirement, the announcement of the WWE Network. Here are the details straight from WWE.com:

WWE Network is a 24/7 streaming service with both scheduled programming and an on-demand library. WWE Network will include all 12 WWE live pay-per-view events including WrestleMania 30, groundbreaking original series, reality shows and documentaries, and the most comprehensive video-on-demand library featuring all WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-views and classic matches uncut and uncensored as well as replays of Raw and SmackDown episodes. Additional programming, including a live daily studio show coming this summer, and video-on-demand content will be added regularly.

Yep, you read that right: every WWE PPV, including WrestleMania, as well as every past WWE, WCW and ECW PPV, right out of the gate. And all of this for $10 a month. Excuse me while I collect my jaw from the floor.

This is huge. I know things like "groundbreaking announcement" in wrestling usually mean John Cena and Randy Orton will wrestle for the 47th time. In pop culture in general, it usually means the iPad 47, now with a headphone jack on the side! But make no mistake, this is the biggest piece of wrestling news since WWE bought WCW, it completely changes how we will consume wrestling going forward.

And WWE was wise to delay it after first making the announcement over two years ago. Rumors were that WWE were looking to buy a TV network, possibly G4, but that would've been a recipe for failure, it's just not how people watch TV anymore. Netflix is the future: on demand, wide selections that you can watch at your leisure. Including a 24/7 streaming "network" is a brilliant move too, because it can solve the ultimate first-world problem of not being able to decide what to watch on Netflix. Can't decide what 90s PPV you want to watch? Eh, just turn on the network stream instead.

WWE's biggest asset is their video library with over 100,000 hours of pretty much anything important that's ever happened in wrestling. Fans are already scouring YouTube daily to find this stuff (I watch Jericho's debut monthly), and now WWE has figured out a way for it to make money and not have to worry about JU66ALO42069 uploading a shitty clip of it and replacing the audio with death metal.

And more importantly, at $9.99 a month, I don't want to hear about anyone illegally streaming a PPV ever again. There's no excuse when you have access to all this content and you get every PPV, even WrestleMania, included. And that's the way you combat stuff like this, you don't charge more, you don't treat your customers like criminals, don't put up needless restrictions, give them access at a reasonable price. Netflix and iTunes have effectively crippled piracy (it'll always be there in some form, can't beat free), but reasonable pricing and control are all people ask for and it looks like WWE is providing that here in spades.

There are a few concerns to be raised, the first that sprung to my mind was the "$9.99 *with six-month commitment" caveat, but as many folks pointed out to me on Twitter, that's probably just to keep people from ordering it and canceling immediately after WrestleMania. Cable companies use the "just $24.99 for the first six months" hook often, but I'm optimistic the price won't go up that high. Netflix charges $8 a month and they have to pay numerous licensing fees, while WWE owns everything that will be on the WWE Network, it's pretty much all profit for them.

My other concern is that it's launching right before WrestleMania and I worry that the traffic overload could cause some problems during the show, but hopefully their partnership with MLB Advanced Media is part of that. Still, no matter how good you think the servers are, you never know how it'll handle millions of people until it's handling millions of people. Just ask PS4 owners on Christmas Day. Even if there are problems during launch, that's a problem that can and will be fixed. Not enough to dissuade this wrestling fan from perhaps the biggest thing to happen to the industry.

Major kudos to WWE here. They took something that had become a joke, the wrestling equivalent of vaporware, and turned it into something that will revolutionize their entire business. February 24 can't come soon enough.

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