One thing has become blindingly clear in recent months: things are not looking good for the WWE Network, the company's first attempt to launch their own channel in the United States.
Indeed, just three months away from its advertised launch date of April 1 (the same day as WrestleMania, due to the company wanting to cash on all the mainstream publicity they will garner due to the event) and the network already appears to be facing a long, daunting list of problems.
There are, as noted by many journalists and other industry insiders, serious clearance issues. The network also suffers from a muddled creative vision with only one original show announced (Legends House) and the rest of the programming line-up looking decidedly fuzzy and uncertain.
Rumours abound that the company is struggling to find people to run it, with well-known wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer even noting, hilariously, that even unemployed people were turning down the opportunity to run the network because of the feeling in many circles that the project was going to be a complete disaster.
Former WWE writer and television industry insider Court Bauer, when discussing the proposed channel, has claimed that in the television world “No one will touch this.” Ouch.
There's also the general feeling that right now might not even be the best time to launch any type of network of any type, never mind a wrestling one.
Indeed, US businesswoman and talk show host Oprah Winfrey, a far more important name to mainstream America than Vince McMahon could ever hope of being, has struggled in launching her own network and faced problems nearly every step of the way.
The NFL network has also had faced its fair share of hurdles in issues like advertising and clearances.
Those in WWE are not unaware of these problems. Meltzer even noted in this week's edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that astute people in the company, well aware of the major issues that the network faces, are keen to push back the start date in order to give themselves more time to properly prepare for what it probably their most ambitious project to date:
There are more and more people wanting the 4/1 debut of the network to be delayed based on a lack of clearances at this point, and they don’t want to debut it with so few that it comes across like a flop right out of the gate.
The only programming locked in is still the Legends House show. Vince and others have mapped out a tentative schedule for the first day, built around WrestleMania, but that’s as far as the planning is.
Cable advertising for TNA is bad, so you can imagine what it’s going to be like for a non-existent network with no programming and no ratings history.
So, with all this in mind, is there any hope for the struggling WWE Network? Well, if the company sticks with their ridiculously early launch date of April 1, probably not. With this launch date, the network has “failure” written all over it.
Even if WWE can somehow find smart, qualified people to run it in time, they will be severely hampered by the lack of time to arrange the issues with clearance and programming.
However, there is potential in the idea of network dedicated solely to wrestling, providing the company is allotted enough time to meticulously plan and organize it.
Indeed, the people in WWE working on trying to push back the launch date have the right idea and Vince would be wise to listen to them. The project can be a success, but only it they are given enough time to properly launch it.
Preferably, the network launch can be held back until autumn or maybe even till 2013. While Vince may be reluctant to delay the start date, seeing it as an admittance of failure, he has to realize,and soon, that the whole concept is doomed anyway if it is rushed out to the masses.
These days, the beleaguered WWE owner doesn't have a lot of options.
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