Is WWE following in the footsteps of WCW with the dangerous philosophy of giving too much away on free television?
Raw Country, as it was called last week from Nashville, featured a lot of notable moments in booking.
Big E. Langston won the Intercontinental title. The Miz turned heel. Rey Mysterio returned to the ring. We saw the debut of Xavier Woods, an entertaining no disqualification match between Dolph Ziggler and Damien Sandow, alive musical performance from Florida Georgia Line and a main event match that was pay-per-view quality—one of the best matches I've seen all year.
Just after this packed episode of Raw, a report came out courtesy of PWInsider.com, via WrestlingInc.com, which claims WWE is looking to boost the ratings of Raw and SmackDown in order to gain leverage in negotiations to get more money for the television rights.
Hearing this made me smack my forehead in concern. This way of thinking was a major issue with WCW always putting television first for ratings but not understanding the importance of pay-per-views.
Then, more news came out when we start finding out people are getting letters in the mail, myself included, from their cable provider saying the WWE Classics on Demand channel will be going away in January of 2014. This means the WWE Network is quite possibly right around the corner. Why else would WWE get rid of the WWE Classics?
There has been constant speculation, which WWE has acknowledged, about the possibility of most of the yearly pay-per-views being included in your purchase of the WWE Network channel. If this was to happen, it makes more sense to move forward with aggressive Raw and SmackDown episodes.
If the majority of PPVs were included, those events become less of a classic PPV feel and more like WCW's Clash of the Champions specials. Those specials were free to view on TBS, but they were noticeably a bigger deal than the weekly shows with bigger matches with significant moments in the storylines.
The landscape and structure of wrestling television could be changing. It would do away with what often seems like subpar numbers in PPV buys for the lower level PPV events.
Rather than having 190,000 buys, which would be considered bad, it would seem very likely to have a higher number of people subscribed to the channel monthly who can see the PPV. They would be paying a lower but still profitable price for the channel versus the higher amount for a PPV in high definition.
Plus, I'm sure fans who aren't subscribed to the WWE Network channel would still be able to individually purchase PPVs as well. In the long run it could equal better, consistent numbers and business for WWE to tout to their investors.
Overall, I see a lot of positives and excitement in this potential change of WWE programming. The company has always been known for being a step ahead and ready to change with the times. The PPV market has become over-saturated with the amount of events, not just for professional wrestling but MMA as well. While of course the two are different sports/genres, there is crossover in the audience—an audience who has a budget of what to spend their money on for their cable bill.
My concern is if the WWE can find a good balance of engaging moments such as the various ones they had on Raw country and not burn their storylines out too quickly. Three hours on Monday and two hours on Friday is a lot to fill. It's 15 segments every Monday followed by 10 segments every Friday for SmackDown.
If they start trying to have too many heel or face turns, title changes and debuts, then they would be taking the "give everything away on free television" model that hurt WCW as well as the confusing booking that's hurt TNA.