McGinnis: Growing Pains: Reviewing WWE Network’s first weekWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On paper it sounds like a fan’s dream come true: A 24-hour, all-wrestling network, with on-demand access to hundreds and hundreds of hours of archival footage? Literally every pay-per-view ever broadcast — from World Wrestling Entertainment, World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling — at your fingertips, to watch whenever you want? Live streams of all new WWE pay-per-views, too? And all at a cost of — this can’t be right — only $9.95 a month?
It’s little wonder the WWE Network stirred up an incredible amount of excitement among fans and media observers when it was announced in January with a launch date of Feb. 24. And while the initial excitement had died down a bit by the time that the first day arrived, there was still much anticipation about this new, game-changing venture — particularly since the company was offering a free trial week to sample the service.
So, seven days into its existence, is the WWE Network everything Vince McMahon promised it would be that fateful January morning? Yes. Well, mostly. On a sheer level of content, this may be one of the best deals in entertainment for the price. But on a technical level, the service’s first week was a bit of a fiasco.
Problems began depressingly early for fans looking to get in on the network’s launch early Feb. 24. In order to gain access, one had to sign up for an account through WWE.com — and high demand made the process virtually impossible for the first few hours. Then, many users reported being unable to log into the network’s app via their home devices. Connectivity was spotty at best for users accessing via their computers or video game systems, though the mobile network seemed to work well.
After the initial rush of subscribers finally subsided, a new problem arose in the quality of the streaming of on-demand content. Many subscribers reported that shows they tried to view in the first few days would constantly freeze or simply refuse to play at all.
The network is essentially divided into two parts: a “live” feed broadcast by WWE of new shows mixed with archival footage, and an on-demand archive of hundreds of older shows, including the as-promised selection of (virtually) any pay-per-view in history.
The live feed was working consistently from almost the very beginning. But considering how everything it broadcasts is also available in the on-demand section — save for occasional live shows and, eventually, the promised complimentary viewings of new pay-per-views — the live feed feels more like an afterthought than the main attraction. The big enchilada for fans was access to the on-demand archives, which is what made the initial technical issues so frustrating.
Fortunately, after the first 48 hours or so, many issues seemed to be smoothed out. Most every show on most any device ran without any noticeable hiccups, though Xbox 360 users had to wait until an update this week to gain any access at all. And the company’s first effort to run a live wrestling show for the Network’s audience — a special from the NXT Developmental Group — ran into streaming issues before the end, too. If the same problems hit when WWE’s biggest show, WrestleMania, airs next month, there’ll probably be hell to pay.
But these are the early days, and, really, it’s impressive how quickly most of these bugs were resolved by WWE and their partners at the MLB Network. For the past few days the streaming on most any device has seemed clean and without hiccups. More importantly, the quality of the individual shows presented is excellent.
As promised, the WWE Network offers virtually every pay-per-view show from each of the big three promotions, in as complete a form as is probably possible for a modern video release. Many shows have been altered slightly due to music rights fees, but by and large the matches themselves are complete, and every show looks good-to-excellent no matter what device you view it on. Even better, legal issues with the World Wildlife Fund have been settled, meaning no more annoying edits of WWE’s old abbreviation “WWF” or blurring of its old scratch logo — a practice which often made old footage unwatchable.
The bottom line is that for all the first week’s growing pains, the WWE Network is shaping up to be an amazing buy for most any wrestling fan of most any era. Even if a viewer is not a fan of the current product, there is so much material to choose from that one can completely ignore current WWE and still feel completely satisfied with the service. And at 10 bucks a month — six month commitment notwithstanding — this is close to a no-brainer for any wrestling fan. Provided the technical gremlins continue to stay away, of course.