Vince McMahon, 24/7: WWE announces the launch of new online networkWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The first announcement came in the fall of 2011. After years of rumors and speculation, it was finally happening — World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) would be launching its own television channel, the WWE Network. A combination of classic footage and new programming, the network would be a fan’s dream come true. It was proclaimed the channel would be up and running on April 1, 2012, to coincide with the company’s flagship event WrestleMania XXVIII.
Of course, that date came and went. And for the following years, the Network became WWE’s Great White Whale — always off in the distance, promised but not delivered. Now, finally, the whale has been harpooned and is being brought into harbor, though it looks totally different than what was originally promised.
In a press conference on January 8, Vince McMahon and a slew of WWE wrestlers and representatives announced that the WWE Network would formally launch on February 24 in the United States, expanding to other parts of the world in late 2014 and early 2015. In lieu of an actual cable channel, the Network would now be a subscription video service offered for $9.99 a month — kind of a Netflix for the wrestling set.
The fact that some version of a WWE-branded channel would finally arrive came as welcome news to fans and wrestling journalists, who had spent over two years feeling skeptical that anything of the sort would ever actually get off the ground.
“I think they just kept saying it, [so] you knew something had to happen eventually, in some form,” said Dave Meltzer, writer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. “Obviously, the form that it turned out is completely different from the original idea. I mean, it’s like, so different. But it’s probably the best option, even though it certainly wasn’t the option they envisioned.”
The Network, which will come available on a slew of services — everything from PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to mobile phones — will launch with a ton of available content from the very beginning, from original series and reality shows to “over 1,500 hours” of classic content. But the biggest draw for many is the inclusion of every live pay-per-view WWE produces — including WrestleMania, which can cost upwards of $59.99 via traditional means — all for that basic $9.99 per-month fee.
“To me, what was carrying the network was the idea of getting the pay-per-views at a cheap price. And that’s going to be interesting,” Meltzer said. “But it’s not just the pay-per-views, you get a lot of other content, too.
“It’s a cheap buy, that’s the key. It’s a cheap buy and they need a lot more volume. If their price was higher, they would need a lot less people, but the idea is they figure they can get a lot more people by going with a cheap price. And we’ll see.”
The introduction of the service does not come without risks, though. Given how much of WWE’s annual revenue comes from pay-per-view and DVD sales, it seems an interesting move to launch a network that offers all of that footage at a fraction of the cost.
“They’re basically spelling the beginning of the end for both of those revenue streams,” Meltzer noted. “They’ve both been falling over the years, so this is a new way. That’s one of the things as far as the cost of this.
“You’re going to have this transition period,” he continued. “I think they’ll make more money gross … than they would have with pay-per-view. But if you factor in all the costs involved, we’ll find out. It’s going to be very interesting, how it’s going to work in 2015. Because in 2014, they’ve kind of conceded that it’s not going to be so successful, financially. It’s not going to be a big hit immediately. But they’re expecting by 2015 — and of course, in 2015, that’s when they expand to all the different countries.”
The sudden shift in WWE’s business model may not be without repercussions, though. Cable providers get a big cut of the pay-per-view revenues and may not take kindly to WWE offering a service which essentially undercuts the value of their own product. DirecTV has already issued a statement suggesting they may drop WWE pay-per-views entirely. Meltzer doubts it will go that far. But still, he noted that whatever “slam dunk” hyperbole the analysts might be peddling, the success of the WWE Network is far from a sure thing.
“It may be successful, and I think there’s a good chance it will be successful when it becomes worldwide. But even then, I don’t see where the ‘slam dunk’ comes in other than people — it’s like, if you’re a wrestling fan, it’s a great deal, because it’s only $9.99 and you get a lot of content. I mean, it really is, it’s a super deal. But I don’t know that as a business — I mean, it could be successful, but I don’t know where the guarantee comes in.”
Tags: Dave Meltzer writer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Netflix, PlayStation 3, Vince McMahon, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), WrestleMania, WrestleMania XXVIII, WWE Network, WWE wrestlers, WWE's Great White Whale, Xbox 360