At 9am this morning, WWE dropped the test bars and officially launched the WWE Network. I had managed to get through the red tape and sign up for my subscription just minutes earlier. I watched the station go live, in front of my eyes. It was a breathtaking moment.
I flipped through the menus and played around with the only episode of World Class Championship Wrestling that was available.
And then I turned it off, packed my bags and went to work.
I'm home now. I've read some reports of viewers having trouble accessing video, and the signup process has been a nightmare. I can't speak for the signup woes, as I didn't encounter any. However I can speak for the video experience.
The app layout is nice. Your mileage may vary depending on what device you're using, but overall it's fairly easy to find everything. Front and center is what's airing live on the network, and all you need to do is press play. You get the option to join in live, or to start from the beginning, which I love, since I live in a DVR world.
Below that are some popular suggestions, including what will air next. Currently, as I write this, Wrestlemania 1 is airing and the Raw Pre-Show is up next.
Across the top you have your menus. Home brings you to this very screen. Shows will list by category: Pay Per Views, In-Ring, Originals, and Vault.
Let me break this down a bit further immediately.
Pay-per-views have three categories under them: WWE, ECW, and WCW. Choose any one, and you've given an alphabetical list of every pay-per-view. Choose a pay-per-view name, say WWE Armageddon, and it will pull up the five most recent episodes, or in this case, 2008 through 2004. There's a button at the top to select the year. This will give you a list of all instances. In this case, the first airing of Armageddon was in 1999.
Repeat this for every pay-per-view, for each company.
The format is similar across the other shows and categories. In-Ring currently only has WWE programming - Raw Replays, SmackDown Replays, WWE Main Event Replays, WWE NXT, and WWE Superstars. The most recent episode of Raw appears to be from January 19th, 2014. Heading up to "Select Year" yeilds a mixed bag - it is not a complete vault. We are presented with 2014, 2013, 2012, then it jumps to 1998, then, strangely, 1993. 1998 only has two episodes (January 18th and September 27) and 1993 only has a total of 7 episodes - Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9. Very strange.
To make matters slightly more confusing, none of these episodes are in chronological order. A small detail, but an important one. Not a huge deal when there's only seven episodes showing, but the list for 2013 is a terrible mess, and as far as I can tell there's no way to sort.
Originals currently only shows three shows - Wrestlemania Rewind, Beyond the Ring, and Countdown. They released these episodes early as part of the first day, but it's my understanding that these will have regular time slots, like broadcast television, and will be fleshed out as they air. Currently there's only one episode of each available.
Wrestlemania Rewind takes a look at the main event of Wrestlemania 1 - Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. I haven't watched the entire episode yet, but it's a documentary style program and I eat that sort of thing up.
Beyond the Ring is also a documentary section, and I'm not sure ultimately where it's going. The first episode is actually a re-airing of the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart rivalry. This was originally aired October 24th, 2011. I haven't watched it yet. Not sure what else will be going in this spot, so the jury is still out on this one.
The last show is Countdown, and it's a list show. First episode is Coolest Catchphrases, and this too, will be updated like Wrestlemania Rewind. It's popcorn stuff and you get exactly the sort of thing you expect to get with this. Fun background noise, not much else.
The Vault is where things are going to get interesting. Currently it's a bit sparse, but that's to be expected. There's four sections: ECW Hardcore TV, WCCW, Legends of Wrestling, and Old School.
ECW Hardcore TV is, well, ECW, however right now they have about six episodes that span 1993 and 1994. No particular order here, but it's a fascinating look into something that I had no idea existed back then. And yes, this is the "Eastern Championship Wrestling" days.
WCCW is World Class Championship Wrestling. Sadly, only one episode here, from November 1st 1982.
Legends of Wrestling has 3 episodes from the Roundtable Discussions WWE did for their Classics On Demand station, as hosted by Gene Okerlund.
Old School has five classic cards from Madison Square Garden. The earliest is in 1975 and has Bruno Sammartino headlinging against Spiros Arion. The most recent event is 1991, with Ric Flair facing off against Roddy Piper.
Back to the top of the screen, it's worth mentioning that there is a schedule for today, tomorrow, and "Jump To Date." You can also perform a search for a show, and access your account.
The catalog is sparse for the vault, but I can see the potential here. Naturally WWE doesn't want to give us the keys to EVERYTHING right away. There has to be a reason to continue to subscribe. Access to every pay-per-view is a great place to start, though, and they've certainly done that.
Complaints? Well, I think the organization should be better. I like that I can look up these shows by pay-per-view title, then drill down the year. But, I should also be able to browse through them by year/month. I would like to flip through the pay-per-views of, say, 2012, and see one that I want to watch without known the name of the event in advance.
There's also the issue of video playback. Watching something from the vault seems to work pretty well for the most part, although it takes a bit to get it working fully. The program will skip a bit and buffer frequently, but eventually, it gets there, and it is as smooth as silk. Quality is just fine, too.
Watching the live programming, however, has been more inconsistent for me. I've been trying to jump into the Wrestlemania 1 broadcast in progress for about 10 minutes now, and it gives me frequent errors, telling me the video is not available. I just finally was able to get the program loaded.
When it's working, it's pretty surreal. What we have here is a wrestling fan's dream, and quite frankly it's awesome. It's glitchy, but that's to be expected, if you think about the scale of what they're getting accomplished here.
I firmly believe they will have a hit on their hands once the glitches get ironed out and the content flows. However, I have to be honest that it's not a bad idea to be skeptical. That being said, if you're reading this, you've probably already purchased a subscription, or you're about to. I'd say, go for it. Just be aware this is still a work in progress.
It's one hell of an awesome work in progress.