Today, WWE, professional wrestling in general, and the pay-per-view television business change forever, as WWE Network launches in the United States. All WWE PPV events will be available live as part of the $9.99/month subscription price of the new internet-based WWE Network service, which is available on a number of internet-connected devices. Got any questions? I'm here to answer all of them.
What is it?—WWE Network is an internet-based subscription video service from WWE. It consists of a traditionally programmed 24/7 stream a la regular cable/satellite channels and an extensive video-on-demand library.
How much does it cost?—$9.99/month, but you're required to make a six-month commitment, so you can't just cancel after a month to get WrestleMania for $9.99. It's like a cellphone contract: Even though you're committing to spending $59.94, it's billed in monthly increments of $9.99. If you decide to cancel, the cancellation won't happen until the end of the six-month period. That means that your initial commitment includes both WrestleMania 30 and SummerSlam '14. This first week is a free trial, though, with billing starting next Monday.
The only exception to the monthly billing is if you sign up using your iTunes account on AppleTV: If you do that, you're charged a lump sum of $59.99. You can still sign up at WWE.com and use AppleTV if you'd prefer to be billed monthly.
Basically, the way the pricing works out, if you get two or more PPVs annually, you have zero reason to not get the network, and really even if you just get one now, it only makes sense to get it for at least one six-month cycle. Even if you don't get PPVs now, it's a huge price drop that should kill piracy among anyone actually willing to spend money.
How do I sign up?—Go to WWE.com to create an account. If you already have a WWE.com account, you already have your login credentials and don't need to register a new account. You just need to use that account to order the network. If your password has non-alphanumeric characters, you may need to change it using the "forgot my password" link, as passwords with symbols don't appear to be working properly with the network log in so far.
Note that for some reason, during the free trial period available during launch week, there are separate links for the trial (pay Monday March 3rd if you don't cancel) and to start paying now. I have no idea why. If you don't want to pay now, then make sure to click the trial link.
How can I watch it?—I'll get this out of the way since it's been such a common question/complaint: You can easily watch it on your TV or mobile device. You don't need to watch it on your computer. In addition to computer web browsers, WWE Network is available on PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360, AppleTV, most Roku streaming devices (some older models might not be supported), iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, Android phones/tablets, and Amazon Kindle Fire tablets.
You can use a Google Chromecast, but there's no native app: You must screencast the WWE Network tab.
Since AppleTV doesn't have user-activated app downloads or channel additions, if WWE Network is not available on your device, you should try restarting it.
Other devices, including XBox One and various "Smart TVs," will be added this summer.
What shows are on it?—This part is simultaneously easy and tricky to explain, so expect this part of the article to be updated in a few hours: See the press release on WWE's corporate website for descriptions of the main original shows and when they'll premiere. Obviously, the live current PPVs are the biggest attractions, plus there will be a live NXT special Thursday night February 27th at 8 p.m. ET and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony will air live. The first live shows on the network will be the Raw pre-game and Backstage Pass post-game shows at 7:30 p.m. ET and 11:05 p.m. ET respectively.
The on-demand library will include what WWE is calling "every WWE, WCW, and ECW PPV event ever." The list is here, and while it's mostly true, it's missing WCW's co-promotions with New Japan Pro Wrestling and AAA. Beyond that is where it gets tricky, as WWE hasn't really advertised it. Joey Styles, who runs WWE.com nowadays, tweeted that every ECW TV show will be available:
So far, it appears that's not the case: While all ECW PPVs are available, only a few episodes of the TV show are in "The Vault." As for other archival programming, the screenshots on Roku's website shows other stuff like "Old School" (classic WWE house shows that were televised on regional sports networks) and episodes of World Class Championship Wrestling. So far, digging around the library, it looks like there's a small selection of shows that will be added to over time: One episode of WCCW, a few of ECW, a few Legends of Wrestling roundtable shows that originally aired on Classics on Demand, and a few house shows.
Is it in HD?—Yes. All programming shot in HD (so everything current plus archival programming from early 2008-on) will be available in 720p HD if your connection supports it. If you're able to get steady HD streaming from other services like MLB.TV (WWE.com uses the same backbone technology), Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, etc., you'll get WWE Network in HD.
What if I don't want to watch the shows when they air initially?—Everything on WWE Network will be available on demand the second it ends and you can use the live feed like a DVR. You can start the current show in progress, rewind the live feed, and so on.
Does it save my place in a show when I close it? - Surprisingly, no, not yet. This is understandable for the live feed but incredibly disappointing for the on-demand library. Being able to resume shows is part of the standard set by Netflix and company, so this needs to be remedied as soon as possible.
Is the archival content censored? - Generally speaking, no. Chris Benoit matches will not be edited out as they have been on most releases since his death, with the shows instead featuring disclaimers about how their feature fictional characters regardless of their names. Over the Edge '99 will be available officially from WWE for the first time since the night it aired, but out of respect to the Hart family, references to Owen Hart's death will be edited out. Blood and swearing will be left intact, with only new programming adhering to WWE's current TV-PG standards (though unlike with film, the show's producer, in this case WWE, assigns the content ratings).
Music editing appears to be a mixed bag so far: The first old PPV I checked out was WCW Great American Bash '89. The production music used as the show's theme song is left intact, even though it was cut on Classics on Demand. Brian Pillman's entrance to "Rocket" by Def Leppard is dubbed (badly), but Terry Funk's entrance to Ennio Morricone's "Man with a Harmonica" from the "Once Upon a Time in the West" soundtrack is there in all of its glory.
What do I do if I need customer service for WWE Network?—Call the toll-free customer service support number at 866-308-5684 or email NetworkSupport@wwenetwork.com.
When will WWE Network be available outside of the United States?—Late 2014/early 2015 for the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Nordics. It's unclear if they're grouping Ireland in with "the United Kingdom," but if I had to guess, they probably are, even though they shouldn't be with Ireland not actually being part of the U.K.
Are WWE Network shows available in other languages? — Only live PPVs will be available in Spanish. All other programming is in English only. There's no indication that on demand PPVs, TV replays, etc. will have alternate soundtracks for Spanish speakers.
Are WWE Network shows close captioned for the hearing impaired? - Yes, all WWE Network shows have closed captions available. That helps explain why there's less archival content than some people expected, as they need to add captions to shows that didn't have them when they originally aired.
Is there anything else I should know?—The updated WWE App for mobile devices has been updated. Besides being able to access WWE Network from the app, it will include a second-screen experience with wrestler bios and whatnot that's in sync with shows airing live on WWE Network.
David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader since 2011 and also writes for Figure 4 Weekly, available to F4WOnline.com subscribers along with other content, including the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and a variety of audio shows. His brand new article about the 20th anniversary ECW's "Night the Line Was Crossed" show is featured in issue No. 103 of Fighting Spirit Magazine, available online internationally and at newsagents in the UK.