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A Chair Shot From Behind…

It’s been a few months since the WWE Network launched  back in February and it’s safe to say the landscape of the company has truly changed. We saw the rise and fall (due to injury) of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk left right after Royal Rumble but we’ll still lump that in, and the WWE has reported some financial troubles leading to cuts from production through talent. So where does the WWE Network stand in terms of its current performance? What’s still to come? With the first subscriber renewal date just around the corner we take a look at the company’s current state and where it could go with the network.

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The First Hundred Days

Remember the night WWE announced the creation of the new service and the internet ran rampant with speculation on just how fat we’d all get by doing nothing but eating pizza bagels while our eyes dried to a blood red husk from all the wrestling we’d be watching. When the network launched the in-ring product at the time wasn’t something that made fans want to go back and watch the lead up shows. Even if it was, the most recent RAW’s were spotty to find through the on-demand. There’s still large RAW and Smackdown gaps from the beloved Attitude era, which WWE has said we will see on the network. The company was going out of it’s way, not only to ignore the internet wrestling community, but the thousands of fans in attendance at live events made it loud and clear to the company about who they wanted to get over. Even if the entire run of Bryan getting held down by the powers that be was a work, it was bad timing to take it so far when you’re trying to get the hardcore fans to rally around a new cause, or in this case a new product.

Then the WWE Network launched. Every WWE,ECW, and WCW pay-per-view was available, which in itself sounds like a hell of a reason to get on board. The only problem is you were giving people the very thing they already had access to, or just about all of it. For years wrestling DVD’s were among the best selling in the country, but even before that you could go to a flea market and buy someone’s VHS collection for about $5. The original programing lineup consisted of similar DVDs that were already outdated biographies. A few specials and some test shows didn’t really fulfill the excitement we all felt the night of the announcement in January.

 

 

The TV Deal

When WWE was looking for a new television rights deal they sought out two things. First was more money and the second was a better syndication deal for RAW and Smackdown on the WWE Network. When the network launched we couldn’t watch the latest RAW replay through on demand.  To the average person the way RAW’s replays work has never made much sense, why would USA hold hostage an episode of a show you can’t air past the week it first runs and you can’t make a season DVD of later. Trying to figure that out would drive a person to fill their walls with marker scribble. Now, the new deal states the newest episode of RAW can’t be on the network until 30 days after its first run. Salt meet wound. There were other possible ways to sweeten that deal for Universal, they could have offered them compensatory ad time on the WWE Network or worked out some other kind of exclusive licensing, but not knowing what goes on behind closed doors leaves me with nothing but my wild spec… STING’S COMING TO RAW! sorry just more of my unfulfilled dreams creeping in here.

 

Should You Get WWE Network?

Short answer, yes. Before you lose your giblets about me ranting on about the network’s problems for the past 400 words, let me say something. Yes, the WWE Network still has not lived up to the hype it generated in January, but it has a tremendous value for the $9.95 a month you pay. There’s great stuff to watch, it’s just few and far between. NXT remains the network’s saving grace; it’s old school wrestling for the modern era. There’s even some weeks the show is better than what you’ll get shoehorned to you on RAW or Smackdown. Among the network’s best original programing is Countdown and WrestleMania Rewind. The shows make phenomenal use of the WWE libraries, turning them into veritable scrap books of wrestling history. On top of all that are the included pay-per-views.

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While the events themselves, in terms of enjoyment, have been hit or miss, there’s no denying that if you’re still buying pay-per-views saving $600 a year is the way to watch them.

Can the WWE Network Turn the Ship Around?

There was little doubt that the incubation of WWE Network was going to be a challenging period for the company. No one could have anticipated just how bad it would get, but something like this can easily be fixed with the tools at hand. There’s still a ton of programing that needs to come to the service. Last Monday night saw the debut of the Monday Night Wars on WWE Network, which was one of the shows people were looking forward to most. While creating programing can be expensive (Legends House), we’ve already seen that some of the most popular shows on the network are the ones that can be made on the cheap like Countdown and WrestleMania Rewind. Why not take those concepts even further, SummerSlam Rewind…Survivor Series Rewind… etc.

One of the problems WWE didn’t count on was finding out just how many levels of wrestling fan there are today. The overzealous fanatics still exist in droves, but over the last few years the internet has splintered them to range from the hardcore to the “I’ll watch it if it’s on” crowd. So how do you win the crowd back? Well, go back to the idea behind some of the most popular aspects of the Attitude era. No, not the sex and vomit. Go back to making something that appeals to the hardcore wrestling fan, if you make it good enough, casual fans will come back to see what the buzz is about because the mainstream will take notice again (Daniel Bryan).

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Recouping financial losses will come once the network can get to the million subscriber mark. Selling ads, doing more product placement should be more of a focus once that happens. Mountain Dew shouldn’t be the only thing at ring side. Boxing, UFC, Lucha Libre all have dozens of sponsors on their screen and WWE has a ton of opportunities when you look at the ringside from a television screen. Even without the million subscribers on board yet, the company could find advertisers who are wiling to buy reduced cost advertising

Of course that all rests on getting the subscribers in and hopefully WWE has learned from going into this half cocked that boasting a library to the hardcore means you better have every single thing available. By the time subscription renewal happens we will hopefully see every previous RAW and Smackdown alongside Monday Nitro.  While we’re at it, why not include everything WWE Films has put out. I wouldn’t pay to watch The Chaperone but if it’s on cable, why not.

So let’s grade the WWE Network so far

B+

There’s definitely A potential still for WWE Network, but in holding somethings back the WWE has only served to present a promise that has yet to be fulfilled, but when it does man what a time we’ll all have leaving our jobs, families, beloved pets, and voting duties behind to watch wrestling. I’m renewing.

Follow David on the Twitter as he frog splashes society’s ills.