Wednesday 25 January 2012

Don't Pay, Just View

Stop the presses! The launch of the WWE Network has been put back from its original April 1st date!

What do you mean you all saw it coming?

The WWE Network is due to launch this year (some time, they promise and they really, really mean it) and there are currently very few shows confirmed for it. We know we'll be treated to Legends' House (WWE's take on the decade old Big Brother format) and various documentary series on subjects ranging from the Monday Night War to the travel schedule of the promotion’s current batch of Divas. There's a good chance Superstars and NXT (if that’s still around when the Network launches) will be aired there too.

So far, so underwhelming.
There is interesting news though. WWE is considering moving away from the monthly pay-per-view format they've been using since 1995. Firm details on this decision haven’t yet surfaced but it's been hinted that only the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series will be sold as pay-per-view shows when the channel launches, with the rest of the company's PPV offerings moving to the Network as part of its regular, free, programming.

The original rumour was more ludicrous still: WWE planned to give away the Big Four shows and charge for the “filler” pay-per-views. WrestleMania alone routinely gets around one million buys, with the other three approaching that combined. That WWE were considering giving away shows that perform that well for free is distressing.
I personally think any change to the company’s pay-per-view product would be a huge mistake until the Network is firmly established. Numbers have been declining on pay-per-view buy rates for several years now, but giving them away free in order to entice people to buy a television channel isn’t the answer. The best approach WWE could take is spending more time preparing for these events and offering matches people want to see. Ironically, part of the reason this doesn’t happen is that so many people within the company are preoccupied with launching a TV channel.

Vanity projects like the WWE Network are not going to help bring in extra cash. The Network will undoubtedly get viewers, but I suspect it will take a long time to attract enough to offset the costs WWE is racking up setting the thing up. It will take even longer if WWE voluntarily cuts its PPV revenue stream. TV ratings are another distraction. They do serve a purpose (indicating what acts are popular, which storylines are working and which aren’t) but WWE seems to have forgotten that RAW and SmackDown primarily exist to provide a platform to sell live event tickets, merchandise and, yes, pay-per-views.

That’s the theory at least.

The plan is likely to offer the “filler” events free to WWE Network subscribers while still charging non-subscribers as normal. That’s a move not properly thought out. Those people likely to buy every show or the majority of shows will be the ones who subscribe to the WWE Network and will end up getting a year’s worth of B level shows for the price of three or four, plus all the other content WWE’s channel will provide. In short: the company needs to come up with a new hook to entice people to sign up, especially those who would not normally consider a WWE-themed channel.

If they’re serious about making the WWE Network a success WWE need to leave tinkering with pay-per-views for a later date. 2013 at the earliest. Their focus at the moment should be on creating some truly exciting original programming for the channel’s launch and making RAW and SmackDown more consistently enjoyable than they currently are. The quality of the programming is what is ultimately going to sell the WWE Network, not money-saving offers on pay-per-views the company clearly doesn’t care about enough to book properly.

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