With one week left until its historic launch, the WWE Network is being met with much enthusiasm and buzz. WWE's stock, currently priced at $23.50, is seeing 10-year highs. Phil Strum of the Poughkeepsie Journal, among others, has hailed the network as a "game changer."
The WWE Network as a game changer is an accurate assessment, but given WWE's familiar dependence on its glory days, it could be a game changer for all the wrong reasons.
Over the years, WWE has relied on the Attitude Era and/or stars of yesteryear whenever it is in need of a major WrestleMania main event. In doing so, the promotion has trained fans to overlook up-and-coming stars vital to the brand's long-term growth.
Since WrestleMania XXVI, Bret Hart, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Tripe H and now Batista have been booked at or near the top of the WrestleMania card.
Every WrestleMania card will be available for viewing on the WWE Network as well as all pay-per-views from WWE and ECW. All three promotions were key components to WWE's Attitude Era, which WWE is now beginning to revere the same way a heartbroken lover reminisces on the one who got away.
Even the WWE Network's original programming is laced with nostalgia with shows like Legend's House, The Monday Night War—WWE vs. WCW, WrestleMania Rewind and Man vs. Bear Starring Frank Gotch. OK, that last one isn't true, but if Mankind was pitched instead of Gotch, WWE Network executives would probably be open to it.
With fans being taught that WWE's past is its most marketable component, it would hardly be a surprise to see an inverse relationship between WWE's weekly television viewership and subscriptions to the WWE Network.
In addition to defecting fans, the WWE Network's cannibalizing effect is being felt among disgruntled cable networks, namely DirecTV, which according to Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times website, is now in danger of dissenting due to WWE undercutting its current pay-per-view model.
Also dissenting are WWE's ratings since the end of its epic war with WCW, which have steadily declined since 2001 without a central hub to relive moments from its most successful boom period.
Now, with that hub available for $9.99 per month, not only will WWE's current product suffer from the fans who left altogether, but also the incumbents content with reliving the '90s through the WWE Network.
When the WWE Network launches on February 24, are you more likely to watch past content on the WWE Network, current WWE programming or both?
To counter this valid concern, documentaries on unestablished stars, similar to The John Cena Experience and CM Punk's Best in the World DVD, would educate fans about WWE's bright future. In turn, they would be encouraged to get to a television set to see that future play out. Rookie's House or Twitter Q&A (and delete) with Ryback would be welcomed additions.
WWE NXT, which will air weekly on the network along with the announced NXT Arrival pay-per-view on February 27, is one of the few exceptions to WWE Network's strategy of booking the good ol' days.
WWE should to be wary of moving its product forward as well as serving comfort food to its sentimental consumers.
If not, and the WWE Network is able to match the success of its ambitious marketing efforts, it would come at the expense of its own programming.