Wednesday night I had the opportunity to watch WWE present to the world their vision for a new means of absorbing their content. Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Triple H, Michael Cole, and a wide variety of others stood on the the stage of the Consumer Electronics Show and introduced something that revolutionizes professional wrestling as we know it.
The WWE Network, as it was presented to us, is a monumental shift in the way WWE does business, shifting from the cable companies and going “over-the-top” directly to the consumer. Up to this point, very little has been done with live TV over the internet. But here, we have a network that will air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In addition to a constant flow of live programming, they have a vast launch library of WWF, WWE, WCW, ECW episodes, pay-per-views, and specials. I have to imagine at some point, Mid South, AWA, Stampede, Smoky Mountain, World Class Championship Wrestling, and others, will appear on the network in some form or fashion.
Let’s also add in all twelve pay-per-view shows are available.
All of them. Wrestlemania included. In fact, Wrestlemania 30 will be the first one.
And this will only cost you $9.99 per month (with a six month commitment!).
Shut up and take my money, already!
Everyone is talking about how incredible this is, how it will shatter the future of how we take in wrestling programming. They’re right. Something that is not being discussed quite as much is how this will change cable television forever.
I work for a cable company. Not the biggest one, but a pretty big one - one that prides itself on being innovative, revolutionary. I’m just a phone monkey. I answer calls, help people out with their service, and troubleshoot. In most of my calls, I’m flirting with old ladies as I prove to them their service is working properly and their computer is infested with spyware. It’s a good paying job - albeit a difficult one - but it’s a job that I do well and I’m proud of the work I do.
The cable guy in me kind of crapped his pants a little bit when WWE announced this network.
WWE is the first, but they will not be the last to try this approach. The concept of a network circumventing the cable company really is a bold move, and they’re admittedly going to be taking a huge loss here initially, but what happens if this works? Customers have spent years complaining about the rising prices of programming, and being forced to take channels they will never watch, in order to get the handful of channels they do watch.
WWE has built a platform that, if successful, will give the power to the consumer to choose on so many levels exactly what they want. What if what’s on the live programming doesn’t appeal to them? What if it is a rerun? Well then, let’s just load up WCW Nitro from January 4th, 1999, and see what the tipping point of the Monday Night War was.
What is to keep The Disney Channel from doing something like this? 24 hours of live programming, but complete access to their entire library of movies, cartoons, TV shows, and more. If you had kids, would you subscribe for $10 per month? Would you drop your TV package, cut the cord?
I was chatting with a friend of mine on Twitter yesterday and today about this very topic. He argued that it’s 10 years off, and that major networks could never present an over-the-top method like this.
@PsionStorm The difference is that they have so many different rights to negotiate. NBC doesn't perpetually own the rights to their shows.— Christopher Bowen (@superbus) January 11, 2014
While Chris is correct in saying that the rights to their shows may transfer ownership as shows move in and out of syndication, I still feel there’s a future in this type of media. Even if they offered what is currently available on their normal On Demand library, and even if the items rotate out, this would be a way the networks could reach the consumer directly.
Chris did suggest that only leagues like the NFL, MLB, etc could really take advantage of this. I do believe that sports leagues may be the only ones that could feasibly charge a premium for their programming, but I still feel we are only one or two major networks away from cable companies being forced to completely rethink their game plan.
Now let’s take a peek at the pay-per-view side of things.
DirecTV has already threatened WWE and said they could easily pull pay-per-views. "Clearly we need to quickly re-evaluate the economics and viability of their business with us, as it now appears the WWE feels they do not need their PPV distributors," DirecTV said, stating that the audience for pay-per-view events "has been steadily declining, and this new low-cost competitive offering will only accelerate this trend."
Pay-per-view buys have been steadily declining, and major shows like Survivor Series and Summerslam pull in between 150-200 thousand buys. Only Wrestlemania, which occurs once per year, breaks the 1 million buy mark anymore. Imagine if half of the 100,000 buys flock to the WWE Network? The pay-per-view market as we know it is dead in the water.
How about the hundreds of thousands of people that pirate pay-per-views? $50-60 each month is a lot of money to invest in a product that, quite frankly, has been touch and go lately. The entire fiasco with Daniel Bryan really discouraged my purchases. I can’t be the only one. But if all these people that are pirating the shows sign up for $10 per month instead? I have a hard time accepting I paid $60 for a terrible three hours of wrestling. But $10, factored in with all of the other content during the month? Yeah. I can do that.
It’s only a matter of time before boxing and MMA jump on this bandwagon. And what about adult channels? They bring in a ton of pay-per-view and on-demand revenue as well. This could be a pervert’s best friend.
Let’s heap one more cable killer onto this flaming pile of awesome - the Chromecast. It is cheaper than ever to turn any TV with an HDMI port into a Smart TV. Do you have $35 and a wireless router? Done. While WWE didn’t announce compatibility with this magic stick yet, you can bet your dollar Chromecast will support the WWE Network by the end of the year. And why shouldn’t they? Use your smart phone or tablet to choose what you want to watch, then automagically cast it to the TV? It’s even easier than Michael Cole’s weekly app download instructions, and most importantly, it's affordable.
The WWE Network is a major innovation for wrestling fans and has me excited to be a fan again. But as a cable employee, I’m shaking in my boots. Things are changing at a very rapid pace, and it all begins on February 24th, 2014. This is forever going to change our living rooms.