28th Jul2014

WWE Network – Five Months In, let’s take a look.

by Chris Cummings

WWE-Network

The WWE launched its much-spoken of, much-publicized and much-advertised by its announcers on television every single week, Network at the end of February and now we are just over five months on from the launch, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Network now that the issues have been ironed out, more content has been added and rumours have begun to swirl that WWE are planning to launch it in the rest of the world before 2014 comes to a close.

When it launched five months ago the WWE Network was a big of a mess in terms of glitches and errors, from people experiencing numerous problems with the sign-up process, people being charged twice, people being charged even though they cancelled before the end of the “free trial”, and then the issues that came once you signed in. Freezing during the on-demand portion of the service, buffering problems, the terrible and not-really-improved search function were all issues that customers had to deal with in the first few weeks after the launch, but hey, most put up with these problems due to the fact that many new services suffer from “teething” issues at the beginning. These issues, or most of them at least, were fixed or improved within a couple of weeks, and it was then that people had the chance to jump into the Network and see what it had to offer.

The live stream which acts as a television network for the product has worked fine since the launch, offering live scheduled programming such as pre-show and post-shows for the PPV’s and television shows, old episodes of RAW and Smackdown, old events from the vast WWE tape library, and more. The live stream proved its worth at WrestleMania XXX when it managed to provide a clear and strong stream to fans who were watching on the Network, and has remained that way with each live event it has provided since then.

It is the “on demand” side of the WWE Network that is truly the treasure chest that fans of the older days of wrestling should be excited about though. I mean, the fact that you get all 12 WWE PPV’s included in the subscription is pretty amazing, but with the growing “on demand” section too, it is really a wonderful product for fans, old and new. RAW is added weekly and from the beginning, starting at the first episode in 1993, we are now in mid-1995, with more episodes added each week. The same with Smackdown, only those are added randomly with no real structure to what they add, only that they choose “classic” episodes. The PPV library is immense, with every WWE, WCW and ECW PPV on there, though it will be much more enjoyable once all the episodes of RAW, Smackdown, Nitro and ECW TV are added, so we can enjoy the PPV shows in context with the television product giving us the background to the matches on the big events.

The original content has been, so far, a mixed bag. The Countdown show, in which there is a “top ten” countdown of various things, from “best managers” to “greatest returns” is enjoyable and often the highlight of the original content each week. The “WrestleMania Rewind” focuses on specific matches from past ‘Mania events, and depending on your enjoyment of the match in question, it will decide whether or not that specific episode will interest you. Then there was Legends House, a reality show featuring WWE veterans from the past, such as Roddy Piper, Pat Patterson, Jim Duggan, Jimmy Hart and more, was fun, silly and entertaining while it lasted, and offered something different to the Network which was a good thing. Recently, Season 1 of Total Divas has begun airing on the Network too, a show looking at the female talent of WWE when they’re not in the ring. Very scripted and often irritating, this show has been a minor-hit, but is rarely must-see television. Overall, so far, the original WWE Network content has been fine, but they need to add more soon because the Countdown show has halted, Legends House ended weeks ago, and Total Divas has already been seen by many fans when it aired on E!. Apparently the Monday Night Wars show will begin airing soon, a show looking at the WWE(F) vs. WCW war from the nineties and early noughties. Hopefully more shows will be added too.

There is obviously a lot to sink your teeth into with the Network, from all the PPV’s from the past and present, old and new episodes of RAW (new episodes are added a month after they air live), exclusive content, and other shows like NXT, Main Event, Superstars, Legends of Wrestling, ECW TV and more, but there is something missing. It is obvious that a talk show is needed on the Network, an interview show that talks with current and past performers in detail about their careers, it would do well and provide insight into the lives and careers of the men and women we see on television each week. Podcasts are a big deal right now, and WWE are missing the boat by not having a Jim Ross, a Chris Jericho or a Steve Austin doing a version of that for the Network too, it would be a hit, undoubtedly. WCW Nitro should begin to be added on a weekly basis as a way to provide background to all the PPV’s from WCW that are available. Fans of WWE might not be familiar with why Hogan and Sting are feuding, or why Ric Flair is suddenly a babyface when last month he wasn’t, and episodes of Nitro would provide that, as well as an alternative to RAW and Smackdown, which would only bring in more customers, surely.

Sure, it seems silly to ask for more when there is already so much on the WWE Network to enjoy, and I don’t dispute for a moment that the $9.99 a month price-tag is well worth it, but as a fan I would like to see the whole product fleshed out more, and I imagine it will be over time. Well, that is if the Network makes it.

WWE has made a huge loss due to the risky launch of the Network in February, and they haven’t secured anywhere close to the amount of subscribers they had hoped to, leading many to question the future of the service. WWE, in my view, made a huge mistake by not launching the Network worldwide from the outset. If other countries weren’t ready due to copyright and distribution issues, then wait it out and launch it later. If WWE had made a big worldwide launch, say, in time for the upcoming SummerSlam PPV, the number of subscribers would obviously be much bigger and the outlook for the service would have appeared to be much brighter. Fans across the globe have had time to consider whether or not the Network is for them, and read reviews about the service, while the product has been unavailable to them, which could spell disaster for WWE when they finally do launch it worldwide. Maybe it will do amazing business and surpass expected sales, but I doubt it, WWE’s product is stale, it’s fans are becoming increasingly tired of its television output, and many of its popular names have either left (CM Punk) or are injured (Daniel Bryan).

I hope the WWE Network can stay the course and succeed, because it is a terrific service that truly offers a monumental product to fans of pro-wrestling. Vince McMahon made a gutsy decision when he put all his chips on PPV back in the early 80’s, and that took off like a rocket and made him a billionaire, so perhaps, once the smoke has cleared and the product is available everywhere, he will do the same with this. I hope so, but we’ll see.

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