Tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET, WWE is holding a press conference in Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel as part of the annual Consumer Electronics Show. It's all but confirmed that tonight's "groundbreaking announcement" from WWE is the official introduction of the WWE Network in the form of an Internet service available via a number of Internet-connected devices like the ones showcased at CES.
How do we know the announcement is about the network?
- Yesterday, the calendar on WWE's corporate website briefly listed "WWE Network Announcement" as being on the agenda for today before changing it to "WWE Tune In Announcement." H/T to Chris Harrington of Indeed Wrestling for the screenshot.
- The file WWE provided to SNL.com containing yesterday's press release about the announcement is titled "Microsoft Word - Tune-In for Network.docx."
- Yesterday, Mike Johnson wrote at PWInsider.com that he's 100 percent sure it's the WWE Network announcement after speaking to multiple people in the company.
- The WrestleMania logo (posted to Instagram by WWE publicist Joe Villa) used at the WrestleMania 31 location announcement press conference last month includes both the modified WWE logo unveiled in the original 2011 ads for the WWE Network and a "play button" icon.
- Why else would it be at CES?
There are a bunch of rumors about the WWE Network, with the strongest being the following. Most of these are from a WrestleZone report that was quickly seconded by Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer on his subscribers-only message board. This is what appears to be fairly likely:
- The WWE Network will launch February 24th, the day after Elimination Chamber, and will only be available online, with apps available for most major internet-connected devices like game consoles, smart phones, tablets, Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast and so on.
- It will cost $10 per month with all non-WrestleMania pay-per-view events available live in HD as part of the subscription price. The PPV shows will still be available on their own at the current price ($44.95 for standard definition/$54.95 HD) on traditional PPV channels for now, but obviously there's no real reason to buy them that way unless you're a satellite customer in a remote area without a cable, DSL or fiber-optic Internet connection.
- As an incentive for early adoption, anyone who pre-pays for six months (or more?) at launch will get WrestleMania 30 for free as part of their service. Subsequent WrestleManias will not be on the network.
- The WWE Network will consist of a 24/7 stream programmed like a traditional cable/satellite channel and an extensive on demand library that will likely include complete runs of Raw, SmackDown and all past WWE PPV events. Obviously that streaming collection would be supplemented over time with more WWE shows and programming from other promotions in their library.
- Rich Kraetsch of VoicesOfWrestling.com (who was also backed up by Meltzer) added that MLB Advanced media is heavily involved with the WWE Network on the technical side to ensure a flawless service. In addition to being behind MLB.TV, which is the closest service to the WWE Network on the technical side (live/on demand mix with an extensive library), MLBAM powers ESPN's online video services and CBS's online March Madness coverage.
Obviously, the pay-per-view component is the biggest change. There's no real turning back: If the network were to fail and be dropped, WWE could never go back to getting fans to pay $45 to $55 for each show.
It's absolutely the right long-term move: As WWE's Chief Financial and Strategy Officer George Barrios admitted last month at an investors' conference, "$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."
The closest comparison is the retail price of a brand-new video game, which is clearly a better value in terms of hours of entertainment. In the short-term, it could take time to catch on, but WWE is patient.
The change in the price isn't quite as drastic as it sounds on WWE's side: WWE only gets about 40 percent of what you pay for a PPV event ($17.98 in standard definition and $21.98 in HD), with the rest going to the cable/satellite companies and distributors. With an Internet-based service, WWE gets all of the money minus their own expenses in infrastructure, credit card processing, etc.
On the fan side, it's hard to see this as anything but a positive for most: Not only will a year of (non-WrestleMania after this year) PPVs cost just $10 more than just two of them cost in HD now, but there will be a variety of other original programming, a giant archive of past shows, etc.
Does that mean a much larger percentage of the audience will buy the network than buy PPVs now? That's the big question, especially with the network not available to fans without broadband Internet (minority but probably not completely insignificant) and Canadian fans having fairly small data usage caps imposed by their Internet service providers even if the network is available there.
Personally, unless there are any big surprises, I'm curious how WWE presents all of this at the press conference. While the event will be streaming live on WWE.com, YouTube and all of the other places that usually offer the live PPV pre-shows online, their in-person audience will mainly be technology journalists at CES.
To me, without some major new technological developments, the key to getting coverage in that sector will be pushing the death of PPV, the sheer size of the online library and whatever social media integration they have planned.
How does all of this sound to you? What are you expecting from the network announcement? Does anything sound too good to be true? Any wild guesses as to surprises? Ideas for either regular content or which shows should be available as full runs close to launch? Let us know in the comments.