Sunday, 2 December 2012

PPV or Not PPV

WWE has been promoting twelve pay-per-views (or more) each year since the mid-90s. It was a practice originally devised to attract more money and provide extra television time for developing feuds between bigger events. The success of World Championship Wrestling played a part in the decision too.
Over the years this reasoning has become irrelevant. Since the twelve PPV format was introduced WWE has added SmackDown to their weekly timetable and RAW has stretched to three hours. That's five hours of programming a week without even considering "lesser" shows like Superstars and Main Event. As any regular viewer should be aware this is already too much time for WWE's overworked team of writers to handle.
Not only that but WWE, now far easier to describe as a global brand than its 1995 counterpart, makes a healthy amount of money from advertising, sponsorship deals and overseas sales of these shows. The total amount of money made there comfortably outweighs the revenue brought in by B level pay-per-views.
It's not just WWE stuck in this routine. TNA have been emulating it since 2005. They had left their weekly PPV format behind the previous year and sunk their teeth into a TV deal. It's a move the promotion felt they had to make in order to be seen as competition to WWE. As most people will know that has always been very important to TNA.
The format has outlived its usefulness, and it’s pleasing to hear that TNA are planning to decrease the number of pay-per-view broadcasts they make next year. Right now the plan is for February to not feature a supershow. It will give TNA more time to build storylines and prep for the March card.

Fewer pay-per-view outings for this guy next year. Unless he returns to WWE of course

WWE should follow suit. The company has moved away from the long term booking that came with promoting four or five large events a year and developed an approach that sees them book month-to-month. Over time this has resulted in a lack of new stars breaking through as WWE relies on the same names in the same spots over and over again. The product is dull and the pressure of creating a monthly supercard hasn't helped matters.
A changing product isn't the only problem. MMA outfits now compete with WWE for fans' time and money. UFC in particular has proven it can be a box office beast with the right card, not relying on a near thirty year heritage and an ageing cast of former regulars to pique interest in its bigger shows (as WWE has begun doing with WrestleMania). The rise of internet pay-per-view is also worth noting. While no indy promotion (or even a collaboration of indy promotions) could possibly hope to outdraw a WWE PPV the medium has given wrestling fans more choice than ever before. In the long run that could harm WWE.
Is the answer to return to the four shows a year approach that was used in the early part of the 90s? It would lead to less money coming in every month but I think more people would be inclined to purchase the bigger shows if there were few secondary events on offer. It would also relieve some of the pressure on the writers and allow them to plan further ahead.
Personally I think that solution is too drastic. Simply returning to a PPV calendar of Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series (known, as I'm sure many of you are aware, as the Big Four) would not work in the modern WWE environment. The company and its shareholders would be concerned of it being construed as a sign of weakness. They would not be inclined to say goodbye to their extra income either, no matter the long term benefits to the product.
The best thing WWE could do is change the formula of their B shows. The majority of them attract such low numbers (by the standards of previous years at least) that a little experimentation couldn't really do much harm. Even if numbers did dip at first they could pick up once the new approach became established.
The new approach should be designed to focus on younger talent and allowing them to establish themselves with fans. As such the whole concept of gimmick pay-per-views should be abolished (something I've written about before). Not only would doing away with shows such as Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber and Extreme Rules create more freedom when planning shows it would also make the gimmicks more meaningful and impactful when they’re used in the future.

An alternative is to cut back on the number of shows but not by such a drastic amount. Ten supershows would be a good trial. It would allow for a show once every five weeks, not a huge change to the current schedule but enough of an alteration to provide the writers with the required change.
Whatever happens the Big Four should be the backbone of the promotion's pay-per-view output. The biggest matches featuring the biggest names should be held off only for those shows. We've seen this approach a little already this year. Triple H v Brock Lesnar was saved as the headline attraction of SummerSlam and 'The Game' also clashing with The Undertaker at WrestleMania. It looks like it will continue next year too, with The Rock already confirmed for a Rumble match and appearances from Lesnar, 'Taker, Triple H and 'The Great One' looking likely for 'Mania too.
Hyping these names for the larger shows relentlessly in order to drum up as many buys as possible would be ideal (something WWE does very well anyway). These shows should also feature as many regular main event wrestlers as possible. The CM Punks, John Cenas and Randy Ortons should be on all of these events, with storylines stretching between each of the bigger instalments featuring these big names.
The B level events, which are basically any non-Big Four pay-per-view, should be used to further feuds and programmes for the bigger events. Like RAW but with more emphasis on matches than skits. These shows are the perfect place to give underexposed members of the roster a chance to make their mark or put together a match you wouldn't usually see on a PPV. Tag matches fusing two singles feuds would be ideal for the main event or semi-final spots on these shows. To take current storylines as an example a bout pitting CM Punk and Big Show against Sheamus and Ryback would feel logical and different and would keep both programmes alive without wearing them out.
Something else WWE should try with these events is not relying so much on their core stock of headliners. Leaving Orton or Cena off a show allows the likes of Wade Barrett and The Miz more ring time. To go back to the Sheamus v Big Show example: it would be easy to book 'Great White' in a supershow outing against Barrett with Show on commentary. 'The World's Largest Athlete' could get involved towards the finish, giving Barrett a win and keeping the rivalry going.
Things are a little different for TNA. While they have gotten their act together this year and presented a far more logical product it's still not a company that has so much going on that a monthly pay-per-view is an absolute necessity. Rejigging things so that a supershow will be broadcast every five weeks (for ten pay-per-views a year) or two months (for six) will be in their best interest. It will allow the company time to concentrate on pushing the right talent, cultivating its own new flock of stars (instead of robbing them from elsewhere) and pacing storylines correctly.

Monthly pay-per-views are no longer viable. The sooner that’s accepted the better.

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