WWE made one of the biggest announcements in the history of the company on Jan. 8 at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel. At the Consumer Electronics Show in front of a crowd largely comprised of tech media, the company finally unveiled the long-awaited WWE Network.
Let's start with the information everyone needs to know:
WWE Network launches Feb. 24 as soon as Monday Night Raw goes off the air at about 11:06 p.m. ET. Sign-ups will be available starting at 9 a.m. ET that day, which is something I hope it re-considers so its website isn't mobbed.
It will only be available online as a streaming service, and at launch it will only be available in the United States. United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Nordics have to wait until "the end of 2014/early 2015." The backbone of the service is provided by MLB Advanced Media, the best in the business. They're behind MLB.TV, ESPN's online offerings, the NCAA Final Four streams, and so on, all of which are known for their reliability and high quality.
Device support at launch is as follows: Desktops and laptops via WWE.com, Roku, PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360, and every smartphone/tablet that the WWE App is available on. Additional devices, including Xbox One and "select Smart TVs," will come in the Summer. A WWE-branded AppleTV was left under each reporter's seat, while Google Chromecast sticks were in the press kits handed out. Those will presumably be supported, as Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson mentioned there are some supported devices that they couldn't name right now.
It's a combination of a traditionally programmed linear network in the vein of a regular cable/satellite network, but it's supplemented by a constantly expanding on-demand library that will have 1,500 hours of content at launch. The launch lineup includes every WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-view event, WWE's "complete home video library," and a number of old weekly TV episodes in "The Vault." All shows will be available on demand as soon as they end, and you can also watch in-progress shows from the beginning.
The cost is $9.95 per month with a six-month commitment required and week-long trials available. The closest comparison is a cellphone contract: While you're committing to $59.70, it's not a lump sum; you're just required to to pay $9.95 monthly until the end of your commitment. You always have to commit to six months at a time; you can't jump on for a month and unsubscribe. This is important because...
Every single WWE pay-per-view event, including WrestleMania, will be available live in 720p HD on WWE Network as part of the subscription price. The commitment is obviously to keep people from picking and choosing. If you just look at it as a price-drop for the PPVs, that's $120/year instead of $675/year. The PPVs will still be available on cable/satellite at current prices, but obviously there's no real reason to buy them unless you're a satellite customer unable to get broadband internet access due to your location.
Original programming includes NXT and Superstars (currently on Hulu Plus); the Legends House reality show; historical documentary shows like Monday Night War (not the Classics on Demand show—the WWE Network show will have talking-head interviews) and WrestleMania Rewind; a "lists" show called WWE Countdown that looks like it's styled like VH1 talking head shows; live pregame and postgame shows for Raw, SmackDown, and PPV events; and a daily live studio show launching in the Summer.
Whew. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, it's time to actually try to analyze this thing.
By and large, the announcement was, almost exactly, to a letter, what we went over yesterday in our preview/rumor roundup, which everyone was expecting for the last month after WrestleZone reported most of the details. The only thing that didn't really pan out was the rumor that every Raw and SmackDown episode in the shows' histories would be available at launch.
First and foremost, regardless of what happens, WWE has completely changed the game with pay-per-view. If it's a success, it will have re-invented the wheel, and aside from your biggest events, PPV is dead as we know it. If it's a failure, PPV as we know it is dead for WWE at least because it can never go back to the current pricing. With TNA also out of the live PPV business for the most part, and HBO and Showtime both running two boxing PPVs in 2013, this leaves UFC as the only company producing live, large-scale PPV events on a monthly basis.
Michelle Wilson didn't mince words when talking to the Associated Press' Dan Gelston about where PPV stands in the current landscape.
"I'm just not convinced the pay-per-view platform is in it for the long term," Wilson said. "It's not the best consumer experience."
She added, "Most people don't think fond things of cable or satellite providers."
This comes on the heels of Chief Financial and Strategy Officer George Barrios saying last month that "$45 to $65 for about three hours of content, it's pretty expensive in today's world where there is so much content out there."
Barrios added that 800,000 to 1 million homes already buy two to three PPVs per year. With the annual cost of the network being just $10 more than two HD PPVs at the current price, it should be a no-brainer for most customers. Approximately 1 million subscribers is WWE Network's break-even point, and WWE's research apparently says that "it's within the realm of possibility" that they could get between 2 million to 4 million subscribers, per Wilson.
It's a risky proposition, but in addition to the above, there's something important to keep in mind: This is a piracy killer. If people are watching bootleg streams because they can't justify $50 for a B-level PPV but were willing to pay (and there are paid subscription bootleg streaming sites), they're likely subscribing to the network. Anyone who has access to WWE Network but decides to watch PPVs on bootleg streams instead would never, ever pay for it at any price, so there's no reason to worry about them beyond trying to shut them down.
With that out of the way, the fun stuff, the actual content, looks awesome. Legends House will be ridiculous, but that's the idea. Countdown looks like it could run out of steam quickly but will be fun while it lasts. WrestleMania Rewind and Monday Night War look great as long as the history is accurate and/or they stick with the personal stories of the wrestlers involved. I have no idea if I'll actually watch the pregame and postgame shows for Raw and SmackDown, but they're obvious shows to produce.
What appeals most to me, though, is saving hundreds of dollars a year on the PPVs I have to buy to cover here while also getting a huge on-demand library with minimal editing (non-WWE music will be dubbed over and that's it) in a great, easy-to-use interface.
It seems like I'm not the only one: A lot of lapsed fans who still follow wrestling but don't watch it seem interested, too, and if they're subscribing, WWE is going to do really well with this venture. It can only get better, too, as it adds more shows from more of the different libraries it owns.
Where do you, the readers, sit?
More than anything, I want to know that if you can get WWE Network (live in the U.S., have/can get broadband internet) and think you won't, why? You're here reading wrestling news and opinion pieces on the internet, so what's the hold-up at such an attractive price?
If you don't have a connected device for your TV now, are you willing to pay $35 to $50 for a Chromecast or Roku box? What, within reason, do you want to see on WWE Network that hasn't been mentioned yet?
Vote in the polls and let us know in the comments.