To call World Wrestling Entertainment’s unveiling of its WWE Network earlier this week a game changer is a gross understatement.
In fact, even attempting to wrap one’s mind around what the company has just done is nearly impossible.
Personally, my expectations were blown out of the water.
First consider just the price.
The $9.99 price tag is exactly the range I figured it would come in at. Comparatively, Netflix is around $8 a month, Sirius-XM satellite radio, which boasts the wildly popular Howard Stern Show, averages about $14 a month and a decent movie package on a cable or satellite provider checks in in the $20-25 range.
My thinking was that a cost of $10-15 for WWE Network would be affordable enough for nearly everyone to justify. That said, I don’t think anyone on the planet envisioned WWE practically opening up its entire universe to subscribers for that low price. There was speculation that not all of its signature pay-per-views would be offered on the network, or that there might be scaled pricing for more or less access to content.
Ever the innovator and always brash, WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon just set the bar for Internet-based programming for now and forever. Just as he changed pro wrestling from a territorial, moderately successful industry to a worldwide multibillion-dollar phenomenon, McMahon’s brash unveiling of WWE Network is now the standard by which all future networks will be judged.
Think about it. McMahon and WWE just took literally every asset the company possesses, bundled it all together in one place, which they own, and are offering people access to it 24/7/365 for $10 a month.
In one swift move, the WWE has just appealed to every wrestling fan, past, present and future. Fans of the current product get more access to the superstars and product they love. Fans of World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship and WWE programming of yesteryear now have somewhere to relive those companies and eras.
It’s a bold move with potentially monstrous payoff and very little downside.
Much has been made of the decision to include all of the WWE pay-per-views, including the signature WrestleMania. Traditionally, pay-per-views have been offered through cable and satellite providers, and online, in a deal that sees WWE share revenue from those events with the provider.
Under that formula, which remains in place as the WWE Network will only be available in the United States for the foreseeable future, pay-per-view buys dictate the level of success of the events. A couple hundred thousand pay-per-view buys, at $50-60 each, 12 times a year, and then shared (50-50 or something in that range) was a BIG part of the WWE’s bottom line each year. WrestleMania, of course, is always a much bigger draw.
So the decision to offer its pay-per-views in WWE Network programming was clearly one that wasn’t taken lightly.
But think about the upside. Once WWE Network launches worldwide, either later this year or early in 2015, the world is Vince McMahon’s oyster. All the decades of hard work, rigorous travel to every corner of this planet, the meet-and-greets, the main events, the autographs … all of that suddenly has the potential to pay HUGE dividends.
Where a typical pay-per-view might see a couple hundred thousands sets of eyes, a $10 subscription to WWE Network could yield millions — even tens of millions — of sets of eyes. Not only is a subscriber getting a roughly 75% reduction in the price of pay-per-views, but full access to virtually every episode of wrestling ever, original programming, reality TV, current programming and more.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that 50 million or more people around the globe will subscribe to WWE Network when it becomes widely available.
The network will appeal to the hardcore fan, the fan yearning a return to the Hulkamania era, those with a hankering to re-watch the Attitude era, those wanting to re-live the ECW or WCW era, those interested in the original programming and even those who just want to watch the pay-per-views or check it out.
That, folks, is why Vince McMahon remains an innovator. And that, folks, is why the WWE is the dominant force in not only sports entertainment, but entertainment and sports.