The latest clue in the mystery that is the WWE Network arrived this past weekend in the form of a note that was sent out to subscribers of WWE's existing Classics on Demand subscription cable TV service. WrestlingInc.com noted yesterday that MediaCom subscribers have gotten the following message:
As of January 31, 2014, WWE CLASSICS ON DEMAND will no longer be available as a monthly subscription service. This is not a choice made by Mediacom, but rather a business decision made by the WWE in order to focus on other programming content.
PWInsider.com noted that a bunch of their readers had gotten similar letters, and that this tracks with their source who told them that the WWE Network launches in February, as the on demand service will shut down around when the network starts up. As we noted a few weeks ago, while WWE's official stance is that no launch date has been confirmed, Stephanie McMahon said at NYC Television Week that they were targeting February 2014.
WWE confirmed that Classics on Demand is folding while remaining quiet on the network in a statement released to PWInsider, literally as I was writing this article:
Beginning February 2014, WWE will no longer offer WWE Classics On Demand, our subscription video-on demand content delivered through cable television providers, as we are focusing our resources on other initiatives. As communicated on our recent earnings call, we continue to aggressively pursue launching a WWE Network; however, no launch date has been set.
Let the floodgates open!
The last time anything like this happened was almost two years ago in December 2011. Some cable companies had informed subscribers that Classics on Demand was ending right as WWE had started airing commercials for the impending debut of the WWE Network on Raw. At that point, the network's debut had been scheduled for April 1st, 2012, the day of WrestleMania XXVIII. Obviously, neither event ended up happening.
This time is a lot different. Even with the theoretical secrecy about the network, the on demand service is done for real this time, as WWE never officially announced anything two years ago.
WWE Classics on Demand will never see its tenth anniversary, having launched on November 2nd, 2004 as WWE 24/7. At the time, WWE clearly wanted to make inroads into having their own cable network, but they'd note on investors calls and whatnot that a subscription video on demand service was a much easier sell to cable companies in addition to being a lower risk proposition.
Classics started with a test run on Blue Ridge Cable in Pennsylvania, and the shows quickly became a hot commodity among the subset of wrestling fans who trade video tapes (at the time) and DVDs. As the service started to get more penetration nationally when Cox and Comcast picked it up, WWE started to promote it more, but by the time most of the country had it, the promotion had fizzled and subscriptions never really picked up steam.
While WWE has stopped giving exact subscriber counts in its quarterly reports, when numbers were given, they corresponded, more or less, to the baseline of how many homes will buy every WWE pay-per-view event.
The subscriber figures for Classics on Demand are often used to approximate how many homes will subscribe to the WWE Network under the current planned business model. While it's a good place to start, it doesn't give the whole picture for a few reasons:
- Due to a lack of two-way communication, satellite services don't support video on demand services (except for some supplementary internet-based content). Between DirecTV, Dish Network and Canada's Bell ExpressVu, that's a pretty sizable chunk of their potential audience.
- The plan for the network to include every current non-WrestleMania PPV event as part of the $13-$15 subscription price makes it completely uncharted waters. It's been argued that the current $44.95 standard definition/$54.95 HD price for WWE PPV events was a breaking point for a lot of fans, so the idea of getting the big shows for $30-$40 off could appeal to a lot of people before you even get to the bonus content that's airing the other 700 hours of the month.
- WWE Classics on Demand was almost all older wrestling. While the WWE Network will clearly include plenty of archival content, it will also include reality shows, talk shows about the current product, etc.
As for the timetable for all of this? Personally, I think it would be odd for all of these signs to point to February if that wasn't actually when WWE was planning to launch the network, but I also don't see why they'd be denying it three months out if the launch was actually that close.
What does everyone else think? Do you think the network is coming in February, and WWE just has their own reasons to say otherwise? Or are they just moving the pieces in the place? Let us know in the comments.