Another one of Vince McMahon‘s visions will soon come to fruition. After several false starts and obstacles, the long-anticipated WWE Network is set to launch on February 24, 2014. The network will only be available in the United States at its inception, but will eventually make its way to Canada, the U.K. and other parts of the world in late 2014 or early 2015.
The WWE Network will be the first 24/7 streaming network. It will feature all 12 of WWE’s annual pay-per-views, including WrestleMania, at no extra charge, all for $9.99 a month with a six-month commitment. The network will be flooded with original programming, including reality shows, documentaries, classic matches and over 1,500 hours of video on-demand at its launch date.
The network will launch following WWE’s weekly telecast of Monday Night Raw on February 24th. Fans can subscribe at 9:00 a.m. on the 24th on WWE.com. There’s no shortage of ways in which we’ll be able to enjoy the network, from laptops and desktops using WWE.com, to the WWE App on: Amazon’s Kindle Fire devices; Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy; iOS devices such as Apple’s iPad and iPhone; Roku streaming devices; Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4; and Xbox 360. Availability on additional devices, including Xbox One and select Smart TVs, will follow this summer.
It’s a huge milestone for the company. Vince McMahon once had this little idea called WrestleMania, and while many were skeptical about the thought of a wrestling extravaganza luring viewers on closed circuit TV in 1985, the event has grown and its thirtieth annual event will take place April 6th.
Originally, WWE had planned on making the network a subscription TV channel, much like the NFL Network, but the countless hurdles they would’ve had to climb posed too big of a risk. Ultimately, it seems like they’ve found a better solution, anyway. With UFC launching Fight Pass, WWE has come up with their own streaming channel. With the audience they have built and an appetite from former fans wanting to relive classic wrestling moments, the network seems to appeal to wrestling fans of all ages.
The endless programming on the network will include a colossal video-on-demand library, as well as live Raw and SmackDown pre and post-shows every week, and a live studio show. The network will continue adding content as the channel grows. That’s not the best part, though.
Following WrestleMania XXX, all pay-per-views will be live-streamed and available on-demand afterwards. Gone are the days of dishing out $45 dollars for a pay-per-view ($55 in HD). If you were to buy 12 pay-per-views a year in HD, you would be paying over $600 (and you’d also be pretty nuts). The point is, you are getting value at $9.99 a month, that’s $120 a year for those pay-per-views, plus all the other content the network is offering.
Some of the original programming the network will be pumping out will include the following:
The Monday Night War: a series that will detail the ratings rivalry between WWE and WCW in the 90s.
WrestleMania Rewind: a look back on classic matches at the annual extravaganza. It will include in-depth interviews with the wrestlers and include never-before-seen footage.
WWE Countdown: a one-hour countdown series which will interact with the audience, giving them a chance to vote and rank some of WWE’s best superstars or moments.
WWE Legends House: a reality series following WWE legends all living under one roof. The first season will include Rowdy Roddy Piper, Tony Atlas, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Mean Gene and Howard Finkel.
The programming is endless and WWE will be able to do anything they want, without the time constraints of a TV network. It’s a win-win for the company and fans. Vince McMahon has always looked for ways to innovate and re-invent his business and this is another feather in his cap.
“Today is a historic day for WWE as we transform and re-imagine how we deliver our premium live content and 24/7 programming directly to our fans around the world,” said McMahon, WWE Chairman & Chief Executive Officer. “WWE Network will provide transformative growth for our company and unprecedented value for our fans.”
Some of the most glaring incentives for fans to subscribe include all 12 annual pay-per-views. Piracy has been a problem for WWE and has cost them PPV buys, as fans have been able to live-stream them rather than pay $45 to $55 a show. The fact that WrestleMania is included is somewhat of a surprise, as the event regularly pulls in over 1 million buys with WrestleMania 29 having attracted 1.2 million. The event grossed a total of $72 million for the company. It’s a risk for WWE to lose those dollars by offering it as part of their network package, but they’ll likely gain many more paying customers with the much more affordable price.
The video library WWE has to offer is a personal favourite of mine, as a longtime wrestling fan. Older fans sometimes feel jaded, as the company has gone with a more family-friendly product in recent years. Their current programming doesn’t connect with every generation, but now every generation can enjoy the WWE Network.
Throughout the last 30 years, McMahon has spearheaded some successes and some failures. WrestleMania has obviously been his best creation. The XFL was one that will be remembered, but for all the wrong reasons. Hitching the stigma of professional wrestling to a football league wasn’t a great idea, even if the league itself wasn’t a bad one. The challenges of getting airtime on a network also proved to be its downfall. Now McMahon has a network of his own, and he can stick to what he’s done best; sports entertainment.
The WWE played a huge role in the pay-per-view business and they still generate millions from that avenue every year. However, buys have declined and McMahon has never been afraid to take risks and is usually pretty adept at reading into the trends of fans. WWE has taken huge steps in adapting to the digital age and this move further cements its place in the digital era. WWE promotes social networking more-so than perhaps any sport or form of entertainment. The company’s online numbers suggest that the network will be a huge success.
WWE’s youtube channel also has nearly a billion views. Their chief revenue and marketing officer Michelle Wilson stated during WWE’s announcement at CES in Las Vegas that wrestling fans watch five times as much digital video as non-fans. Wilson also said that the success of Netflix and Hulu convinced WWE that their over-the-top concept of a network can work.
WWE’s network reportedly needs 1 million subscribers to turn a profit. The WWE released a corporate document stating the network could reach up to 3 million subscribers, estimated from the current base of 47 million broadband WWE households in the U.S. This isn’t even including the other countries in which the network will launch later this year. They estimate the network can create $350 million in additional revenue and $150 million in new profits.
The WWE’s flagship weekly programs of RAW and SmackDown will remain on basic cable on the USA Network and the SyFy channel in the US and on Sportsnet 360 in Canada. The WWE is shopping the rights to RAW and Smackdown for significantly higher fees, as advertisers seek live programming.
WWE has programming as much as five days a week with Raw on Monday nights live, Smackdown on Fridays, Main Event on ION television on Wednesdays, and Saturday Morning Slam and Total Divas on E! on Sunday nights. Their goal is to earn nearly an additional $140 million in TV licensing fees. We’ve seen the enormous TV deals sports leagues have landed in recent years. While WWE will never reach the level of the NFL in terms of TV deals, perhaps they could get close to the deals the NHL, NASCAR and the NBA have gotten.
All the programming the WWE has been able to produce and the public’s appetite for it, has convinced them that this is a risk worth taking. They’re sacrificing millions in pay-per-view buys with the hope that subscribers will give them their money back over time. Fans clearly have to see the upside. As a fan, I can’t imagine ever wanting to pay $45 for a pay-per-view when a monthly fee would cost me just $9.99. I could watch all 12 pay-per views a year for a total of $120 which wouldn’t be enough to get me THREE regular pay-per-views in a year. It makes sense for fans to invest in it, and WWE is banking on that.
While this is a gamble, one has to see it as a calculated risk and one that will ultimately pay off for the WWE. They are jumping on the digital bandwagon before they fall too far behind the trend. I commend them for taking this step. Their announcement was well-received at CES, a consumer electronics and consumer technology trade-show in Las Vegas. Some of the WWE’s most recognizable faces were there, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Ric Flair. Wrestling fans sound excited, the company sounds excited and the wrestling business appears to have taken a new step towards succeeding in this era. An abundance of subscribers will lead to more television revenue, as advertisers will realize the demand for sports entertainment. This network appears to be starting strong and will always have room for growth.
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