Cousineau reviews WWE’s Groundbreaking Network Announcement

WWE Network Logo #2Last night, at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, World Wrestling Entertainment announced, and detailed, its plans for the long-awaited and anticipated WWE Network.  An “over-the-top” model, similar to Netflix or Hulu, the WWE Network will be available on a multitude of devices such as your laptop or desktop computer, PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360, Roku, iPhone and Android devices (including Blackberry 10 devices with Android 4.2 runtime), tablets, and plans for Xbox 360 and Smart TVs before the end of the year.  It will be an overall upgrade to the existing WWE app available on most of these devices.

Outside of a traditional network or cable television channel, this model allows WWE much more freedom with its content, and how it is presented.  Much of this was on demonstration during the company’s live press conference last night, and needless to say, this fan is pretty impressed.

The network will deliver both live, and video-on-demand content, including live streams of all 12 WWE pay-per-views (including WrestleMania).  In addition, a number of original programs will be produced for the network, including the previously filmed WWE Legends House reality series, and an extensive look at the Monday Night War (or Wars, depending on who you’re asking).

For me, however, the most impressive of all is the “Vault,” video-on-demand section.  According to last night’s press conference, every WWE, ECW and WCW PPV will be available, unedited and uncensored for immediate consumption on any device.  As well, there will be pre- and post-RAW and SmackDown shows, and any of the original content produced for the network can be watch on demand, as well.  Although it wasn’t clear in the news conference, one would assume prior episodes of ECW Hardcore TV (presented as the History of ECW), Monday Night RAW and Monday Nitro would be available to be seen, as well, much like the older WWE On Demand cable subscription channel.

Most impressive of all is the price of the network.  Simply with the shear amount of content available, one would assume the network could easily be offered for upward of $20-$30 per month, especially when considering all WWE PPVs will be available inclusive of the subscription price.  On a traditional cable/satellite provider, purchasing all 12 WWE pay-per-views in high definition would cost more than $650 per year.  The WWE Network will be made available, with a 6-month commitment, for $9.99 per month ($120 per year, for a total savings, just on PPVs alone, of $530, ignoring all of the original and archival content that will be made available as well).  That’s an incredible value for your money, and will surely result in a huge initial subscription rate.

There are, of course, some concerns that come along with such an “over-the-top” announcement (to steal a pun from the news conference).  The first is making sure the app is easily downloadable, even for the oldest, or youngest, WWE fans.  You cannot subscribe and consume the content without first having the app.  Most of us have at least one of the platforms for which the app will be made available (upon a quick check, I actually have six different devices I could potentially watch the network on).  Of course, not everybody is as tech savvy as the average 18- to 35-year-old, which does pose a slight roadblock.  They have, however, made an incredible effort to push their existing app on every traditional television program they’ve produced for the past 12 months, so there’s no excuse for not knowing about it.  The question is how likely particular segments of the audience will be to go out of their way to download and install it.  Hopefully any resistance or inability to download the app will be limited.

As well, there is the technological limitations of a service like this.  What will happen when a half of a million people attempt to connect to the network for the first time to watch this year’s WrestleMania?  Will it stream, without interruption, and without fail?  It would be the first internet service of its kind to be able to withstand that type of traffic without so much as a hiccup.  One has to wonder if WWE is prepared for the overwhelming demand that will surely come with this service.  On the flip side, what about the consumers internet limitations?  In my own person case, I am limited to 275GB of monthly transfer, which I typically use most, if not all of, each month.  The overage cost of my internet service is $1/GB with no spending cap.  Streaming high definition content is a very bandwidth-intensive venture, another facet that not every customer is going to understand.  As well, one would assume that a reasonably speedy internet connection will be required, which not everybody has access to.  Again, another risk that will hopefully pay with reward.

And finally, in terms of risk, this effectively cannibalizes WWE’s existing, incredibly profitable pay-per-view buy rates from traditional cable and satellite providers.  With an average of 200,000 buys, at an average of $55 per PPV factoring in a 60% to provider, %40 to WWE payment model, WWE’s pay-per-view business generates approximately $52.8 million.  Under the WWE Network subscription model, they would need 4.5 million network subscribers at all times, which is almost unheard of.  Granted, this has the ability to grow with unlimited potential, but to begin, just to make the same (or similar) amount of money they are currently making with its PPV model, they need a surplus of four million subscribers.  That number would not monetize the original content produced, or any of the archive content served.  It also would not subsidize the vast number of employees WWE will be hiring to properly maintain the network, either.  A huge, huge risk, to say the least.  Of course, the traditional pay-per-view will still exist for the foreseeable future, and there are a large segment of the audience that will still pay to watch the events by traditional means.

Overall, this is a hugely exciting time to be a WWE fan, and overall, a professional wrestling fan.  If something like this existed when I was a child, I would have never left my couch.  I may have literally become a shut-in, as I would never, ever turn it off.  The news conference was a really fun watch, and seeing the beaming pride on Vince McMahon’s face made me feel good for support him, and his product, for all of these years.  One has to wonder if Eric Bischoff had won the Monday Night War(s) if something like this would even be feasible.  McMahon’s focus, from the very first day he purchased the World Wide Wrestling Federation from his father, was content distribution.  From closed circuit television, to pay-per-view, and later onto the internet, and now a fully-functional over-the-top network distribution, McMahon’s passion for sports entertainment, and delivery of content is unrivalled by any sports or entertainment franchise.

WWE’s YouTube channel has a number of WWE Network-related previews, and content announcements, which are worth checking out.  As well, the WWE Network website has launched at www.wwenetwork.com.  There, you will find answers to any questions you might have about the network, and a handy countdown clock for the date the network launches; February 24, 2014 at 11:05pm EST.

Needless to say, last night’s announcement was long-awaited, and it absolutely paid off in every possible way.  The WWE Network will launch WWE into uncharted space as both a sports and entertainment company, and will provide an incredible amount of content to its fans.  We were all a part of history last night, and personally, I’m quite excited to see what is to come in the coming weeks, months, and years.

WWE Network – It’s WAY Over the Top!