WWE Network launched last Monday, signifying the beginning of a new era in both WWE and the pay-per-view television business in general. After a shaky start that was somewhat expected due to high demand, the service normalized in the second half of the week, so most users were able to access all programming and get a better feel for the service.
(Well, almost: It wasn't until the morning I started writing this that an email was sent to subscribers proclaiming that the log-in issues on Xbox 360 consoles had finally been fixed.)
For me, personally, as someone who's a total wrestling nerd, the biggest benefits so far have been:
- I can just put the main 24/7 stream on in the background while I'm doing work and have some fun background noise as the scheduled shows play.
- If I'm talking to a friend about a famous match or show, I can quickly turn it on and watch it.
Obviously, the inclusion of every PPV event live on the Network is a big deal, and really, it's the most important part. But we're still five weeks away from the first one, which is WrestleMania 30, so I can't really say anything about that yet other than that it's nice to be paying a lot less for PPV shows.
The biggest problem with the programming of the traditional channel-style stream so far is how much it's repeating itself early on, especially with the recent PPV events that have popped up. Of all the shows WWE could pick, why has Survivor Series 2012 been on the schedule so much? It's not a bad show, but only a few PPVs have been in rotation so far, and that makes no sense.
WWE has all of the PPVs in company history ready to plug in at a moment's notice, including six years' worth of shows in HD. Even if WWE wants to keep a finite number of shows on the schedule, it can do better than that.
While it's not quite as visible there, the repeated shows problem extends to more than just older PPVs. The early episodes of Monday Night Raw have been easily the least offensive so far, with a few months' worth of consecutive episodes having already aired.
Beyond the Ring only having two episodes so far is understandable since it's being designed as a weekly series, but knowing that WWE is just recycling existing DVD documentaries, it's frustrating to see the company repeat the same shows so often.
Yes, this will all change soon enough, but I can't help but get the feeling I could go to sleep watching the network stream, wake up for a few minutes on and off over the course of a couple days and not realize how much time has passed.
With the home video content, it stings all the more because of what was mentioned at the WWE Network announcement in Las Vegas that didn't show up at launch. At the announcement, Michelle Wilson, WWE's chief revenue and marketing officer, said that the on-demand archive would include "our complete home video library."
While this wasn't really promoted after the announcement, it wasn't until a week or so before launch that it was clear that this wasn't coming to pass, at least for now. Anything resembling WWE's "complete home video library," whether it's just from the DVD era or more or less everything WWE has released since 1985, would give the Network a much, much more substantial and varied on-demand library than the current one.
Having said that, starting with (almost) every PPV ever as the cornerstone of the on-demand library was the right move. It's easily the most marketable content the company has, and it was relatively simple to implement, has a ton of great, memorable matches, etc.
Sure, someone who's as big a fan as I am wants to see more rare and/or obscure stuff. The chapter breaks make the shows incredibly easy to navigate, and the searching/"milestone" linking functionality should end up proving useful as the user base gets more familiar with it so fans can share their favorite matches.
So far, the search and linking functionalities have more or less flown under the radar. While not every show in the on-demand library has had chapter marks added yet, a lot have. You can link anyone with a subscription to a specific match or even the finish of a match, which is pretty cool.
The biggest limitation is that right now, only the app and Web versions have a fully featured search functionality that lets you look for specific shows and moves. On game consoles and dedicated streaming devices, you need the app to auto-complete the performer name you're looking for or else you'll get no results.
In addition, I'm not usually "that guy," but Chris Benoit's matches are not tagged, which makes for odd navigation if nothing else. Non-match segments are not tagged, either, which can also make things difficult.
Don't take this as me dumping on WWE Network. I'm not; I'm enjoying it a lot.
At this point, a little over a week in, there's just not as much to say about what I like, because it's pretty simple. Having access to the old and new PPVs is pretty nice for my $9.99/month—even if there was nothing else. Because I have to buy all of the PPVs anyway, maybe I'm being somewhat charitable, but overall, I'm enjoying the product. There are absolutely a lot of things that can be improved, though, some major, some minor.
The last thing to talk about, which we'll see more of tonight and for the next several Tuesdays, is live-event streaming. NXT Arrival did have issues during the last couple segments. WWE Network showing Main Event live with much more loaded shows than usual is clearly a way to make sure WWE works out all of the kinks.
Will any of these shows have as much demand as WrestleMania? Probably not, but it's the best the company can do, and I do have faith that WrestleMania's stream will go off without any major issues.