WWE made waves this week by announcing plans for the long-awaited “WWE Network” on Wednesday, but the ripple effect is one that will be felt in the whole television industry, not just amongst grapping fans. I might be overstating it (then again, I might not) but just as WWE was a leader in creating the Pay-per-view industry in the 80’s, history might very well remember them as being a large part of the streaming revolution that will turn the television industry upside down. However, the first group to feel the impact (and benefit) of this creation will be the diehard wrestling fans.
For a $60 commitment ($9.99 monthly, for six months), fans will receive all of WWE’s live PPV events, in streaming HD, on their device. Right there, it is a win for fans that have been shelling out around $50 monthly for WWE’s three-hour offerings. Without taking any additional live programming or on-demand access to WWE’s massive library into account, it is a deal that makes sense for the loyal fan who orders every show (or even every other show). Throw in the original programming and access to past events and shows, and you have a very appealing package to longtime WWE fans.
WWE should be commended for recognizing how television viewing has changed. They’ve “dipped their foot in the water” with different 24/7 and On Demand projects in the past, and now that technology has improved, they are diving in with this concept. Streaming has improved, devices have improved, and WWE is partnering with the right people (MLB Advanced Media) to make it work. 15 years ago, the idea of watching TV on your computer seemed insane, but now it is more than acceptable. As we see more people “cutting the cable” and opting to go online for television, it would not be shocking to see more entertainment companies create their own networks for their product and charging micropayments (under $10) for them.
WWE might very well be the first major company to take a step into an “ala carte” TV world, one where cable and satellite companies no longer hold the power they once did, and where those creating the programming no longer have to kowtow to the networks to get their product out to the public. Now, there is still a long road to travel before we are at that point, and there is still a need for WWE to have Raw, Smackdown and a strong cable (or broadcast) television presence. After all, you need a vehicle to attract new fans, and get them interested in the product, before you can convince them to make a financial commitment to a service such as the WWE Network. However, it can’t be denied that we appear to be moving in that direction.
The success or failure of WWE’s initiative is going to be carefully observed by the sports, entertainment and television industry. WWE has the resources, financially, to see this concept grow, and not panic if there is not an immediate return. It will be very interesting to look at the numbers a year from now, and see how many fans have subscribed to the service, as well as what the numbers are for those sticking with the “traditional” PPV model. WWE, like so many entertainment companies, has been hit hard by online piracy; will this network help curb that trend (many pirate sites charge membership fees higher than $10 a month)? How many fans will continue with the traditional PPV model and are we seeing the beginning of the end to the high-priced live event?
It would be quite a story if WWE, the company that spearheaded the Pay-per-view revolution in the 80’s, also became the leader of the movement that destroys it in this decade. However, it would ultimately be a testament to WWE looking forward, and embracing a new business model, rather than waiting for someone else to create it.