This week marks the three month anniversary of the launch of WWE Network. While there were major technical problems at launch, they were eventually smoothed out, and the service has been running strong for a while now.
Now that we've hit a pretty big milestone, let's take a look at how the key pillars of the service are doing halfway into the six month commitment:
Archival Programming: WWE Network launched with almost every pay-per-view event in WWE history (this year's Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber were added as soon as the 30 day windows in the old PPV contracts ended) as the focus of the on-demand library. They were joined by every WCW PPV, every ECW PPV and every episode of Raw and SmackDown from 2012 and 2013.
The rest of the library was filled up by whatever was scheduled to air on the main network stream that week, with Monday Night Raw, ECW Hardcore TV, World Class Championship Wrestling, "Old School" WWF house shows, and the Legends of Wrestling roundtable shows being the core archival programming that was to be updated on an ongoing basis. At first, a number of new episodes were being added into rotation weekly.
For several weeks now, though, only Monday Night Raw has been running "new" (to the network) episodes. Since, for most shows, new episodes are only added to on demand after they've aired on the main stream, there's a large disparity in how many episodes of each show are available. On one hand, Raw has been going fine, as they're already 18 months into the show's run.
On the other, ECW and WCW's own chronological runs stopped being updated on April 3rd and April 19th, respectively, with reruns on the main stream and thus no updates to the on demand archive.. Old School did get one new episode added last week, but it hadn't been updated for a month beforehand. The recent Raw and SmackDown episodes (intended only for on demand consumption and never on the main stream), which WWE says should come 30 days after airing, should have another two months of shows available.
On the other hand, starting with all of WCW's Clash of the Champions shows, WWE is adding additional buckets of on demand programming, some of which are mentioned on the network's help pages. So really, how you grade this part of the service depends on how you look at it and how you weigh the last month's relative drought of old weekly shows and house shows earmarked for the vault section.
Grade: B- for adding weekly shows, B+ for broadening the library as a whole.
Original Programming: This one comes down to personal preference. The Daniel Bryan and Ultimate Warrior documentaries were both universally praised, but the other shows are more of a mixed bag. Countdown varies wildly in quality from week to week depending on the subject matter. WrestleMania Rewind is generally an entertaining hour, but several episodes have largely recycled segments from WWE DVD documentaries. Legends House has been much better than the wariest critics anticipated, but is still very divisive.
There are also shows like Beyond the Ring, but that's not really original programming even though WWE says it is.
Grade: C+ for being inoffensive and often forgettable, aside from the two excellent original hour long documentaries.
Current WWE Programming: We're separating this from original programming since the in-ring shows are not produced specifically for the network. While Superstars and NXT remain more or less unchanged since the network launched, Main Event is a different show from what it was on Ion. It's become a much bigger priority since becoming a "live" WWE Network show, with bigger matches, follow-ups to bigger angles, etc. Some weeks, it even feels like a bigger deal than SmackDown.
I don't think anyone expected the network to have a main roster show of any importance when it launched, so it's hard to see this as anything other than a huge positive.
Grade: A for the addition of the revamped version of Main Event.
Technical Performance: One of the biggest question marks was just how well the backbone of the service would hold up, especially during WrestleMania 30. While there were some hiccups in the first couple weeks—the biggest of which caused a large number of fans to miss the main event of NXT Arrival when it aired live—WWE and MLB Advance Media quickly adjusted.
WrestleMania went off without a hitch.
There are still some weird glitches at times that require restarting the stream, and the apps feel like they're not quite as functional as they could be, but overall, there are no major worries anymore on this side of the service. They've also made various improvements like resuming shows fairly quickly, even though those features weren't implemented at launch.
Customer Support: This depends on the issue and how you deal with it. @AskWWENetwork on Twitter has been, all things considered, pretty responsive. The toll-free support number operated by Harte Hanks was the source of many horror stories in the first couple weeks, especially while the service had its opening week growing pains. It was common to read that someone got disconnected when placed on hold. Personally, when I tried at that point, I was always disconnected before I even talked to someone.
I didn't try again until this week, when I called to see if WWE had given the call center in the Philippines any kind of prepared answers about the lack of updates to certain shows. It seemed like they did for the Raw and SmackdDown replays (something about their contract that didn't make sense) but not for the "Vault" shows. The call quality itself is pretty bad, and the representative's English was badly fragmented with severe syntax problems.
On the corporate side, WWE has stepped in only when necessary, alerting Bleacher Report early that they would give full refunds/cancellations to international fans who subscribed through a loophole but found themselves unable to watch anything. I think that's been it so far, but it was nice to see them make the effort.
Overall, though, this is been the weakest part of the network rollout.
Grade: D+. The phone support is just plain bad, and it's the primary outlet. The Twitter account saves them from an even worse fate.
Closing Notes: The only real negative to the service itself is if you were banking on there being more older, weekly TV shows available. Aside from Raw, they've mysteriously stalled lately. If you just want a lot to watch at your fingertips, it's fantastic, and being able to easily pull up a PPV match you're talking to a friend about is awesome. I'm still enjoying the heck out of it, I just wish there was more transparency about when everything is supposed to be released and why.
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