B/R Exclusive: WWE Explains Network Concept; History Could Be Happening Again

Justin LaBarFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2013

Photo courtesy of WWE
Photo courtesy of WWE

It went from being a wrestling company to a global entertainment brand, so we shouldn't be shocked when the company has plans to infiltrate several new platforms at a time.

I see WWE announcing so many partnerships with mainstream outlets such as E! Network, Yahoo!, Hulu and YouTube, it makes me wonder how successful or logical it would be to pursue the launching of a WWE Network.

I was excited for the idea of a WWE Network devoted only to WWE, but I'm hooked for life. I make up my mind, just as many hardcore fans of the product, months in advance if I'm going to buy or attend a pay-per-view. I know right now that I'll be at WrestleMania 30. I'll also be at WrestleMania 31 and 32. You get the idea.

Hardcore fans ensure the company won't go broke. Bandwagon fans are what makes a financial quarter better than the previous.

Just like fans of a sports franchise, hardcore fans know how many games or jerseys they want to buy each year. There are a lot of negative connotations to being a bandwagon fan, but they are where they money is at. It's those fans that bring in the extra revenue.

WWE, in theory, wants new fans. It wants to be mainstream and get people to view it as an entertainment brand that provides content in different forms all based around its characters. It doesn't want to be just a wrestling company. A WWE Network would be a channel designed to have all forms of entertainment in the form of reality shows, talk shows and more.

My thought is that only wrestling fans would buy it.

Only wrestling fans would buy it, but the company could be building an arsenal of partnerships that could have enough back-scratching that this all works, especially if the different projects are targeted to the right areas.

I had an exclusive conversation with WWE's Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson and she told me “Our strategy is to have the best of all worlds.”

In terms of the mainstream partnerships we've seen announced, Wilson said, “We will continue to do those type of projects when we see the opportunity.” However, she made it clear that the concept of the WWE Network is very much alive and in motion.

Wilson explained WWE has done extensive research that at least 15 other countries besides the United States, who have “sizable fanbases,” would be interested in purchasing a WWE Network. This could be the key.

What has WrestleMania weekend taught us? The international fans outside of the United States are crucial to WWE's success.

The international culture of the fans is rabid. You can hear it at their sporting events with the chants and it carries over in their passion for WWE. They also don't have as much access to see WWE events live as fans in the United States do on a yearly basis. When WWE is available to them, they take advantage. It seems so many international fans are those who consume the WrestleMania travel packages and are so prominent every year at WrestleMania. Many of them stay up at odd hours of the night just to see the programming air live due to the time difference. They're dedicated, to say the least.

That international dedication mixed with the domestic obsession for mainstream content could be the winning formula for WWE.

Capitalizing on the hardcore wrestling fans worldwide for the WWE Network while attracting or converting new fans via outside platforms/networks seems to be WWE's strategy. "Anything we do in those regards will promote back to the [WWE] Network” says Wilson.

Draw in the new fans via outside partnerships and then hopefully you make a new fan for life so that they're interested in the WWE Network. Meanwhile, the hardcore fans are watching everything that's available because that's what they do.

Wilson went on to describe some of the plans for the Network. “We're looking at a business model, a premium pay model similar to HBO,” Wilson said. 

It's a revenue-sharing system between WWE and the cable provider. The hope is fans could pay some premium price (she used examples of $12.99 or $14.99) and would get a channel with 24 hours of WWE content. Also included would be 11 of the 12 yearly pay-per-views, with the one pay-per-view not included in the package being WrestleMania. All pay-per-views would still be available for individual purchase as well.

I asked Wilson about the international fans since their PPV system is set up differently on a per-country basis compared to WWE. She explained how the Network would have to adjust its financial structure on a per-country basis because of that reason. For example, those in the UK who have Sky Sports would seem to have to pay individually for eight of the WWE's yearly pay-per-views while the remaining four are provided as a bonus to those who have an upgraded sports package year-round.

Wilson talked about the programming on the WWE Network. In addition to the extensive video library that the company owns being used, she spoke about a WrestleMania Rewind show that would be produced unlike anything we've seen before regarding WrestleMania. Also mentioned was a Monday Night Wars program that would take an in-depth look at that time period in wrestling. In addition to documenting the general ratings war and boom of the business, Wilson talked about it “looking at Superstars who were caught in the crossfire” during the competition with WCW.

Wilson did confirm the highly anticipated reality show featuring WWE Legends living in a house together “will be on the WWE Network.”

So, where is this WWE Network?

The chief marketing officer explained that the cost to deliver television programming for all of the providers has gone up in the last 10 years. Providers such as Comcast are having to share more of the revenue with the different networks because of demand for the content. Wilson noted how “it took the NFL seven years before they got their network to its current distribution level.”

This is where she explained WWE is in the process. The long negotiation process with providers to get everyone a deal that everyone feels like the benefit with.

The most definitive date WWE is looking at is that by 2015, a WWE Network will be contributing to the financial bottom line of the company. So, sometime before then is when the company is now targeting having the channel available.

If there's one word to sum up the WWE as a whole right now, it's that it's in a state of “transition.” We've been watching the structure and stabilization of its developmental process in NXT. We've seen the departure or scaled-back schedules of so many big stars such as Shawn Michaels, Edge, The Undertaker and Triple H―which has signaled the beginning of a rise of so many young stars on the roster. The company is continuing to build momentum and becoming available in many forms on many platforms.

In the world of creative content, WWE has an impressive track record. Sure, some characters may have been flops over the years, but look at the big projects and figure the company's batting average.

WrestleMania―yeah, it worked out pretty well.

The pay-per-view model and yearly schedule―many, including myself, feel it is too much and affects storyline quality. However, it had a long run of success in the eyes of fans. Even today, people are still buying and WWE is still making money.

Monday Night Raw―revolutionary. Remember, a weekly wrestling show in prime time on Monday night was unthinkable before WWE made it historic and the flagship of the empire.

WWE on social media―just look at what trends and how many followers some of its top stars have.

The reality is, WWE has a strong track record. The launch of the WWE Network and spreading of content across mainstream platforms is under a microscope of critique and anticipation. The launch is under this microscope because it's the nature of passionate WWE fans. I also think it's because, whether we realize it or not, we know subconsciously it's got WWE on it and the company's resume proves another revolutionary project could be happening.