Monday 3 November 2014

Why Survivor Series Needs to be Great

Late last week tweaks were announced for the WWE Network subscription process. Subscribers will no longer need to commit to a six month deal with the Network when signing up. Instead they will be able to cancel their subscription at any time. More importantly a free trial period was announced for November.

These are changes for the better, obviously. The six month commitment WWE wanted was off-putting. It could also be skirted by cancelling PayPal payments, prompting WWE to cancel your access to the Network. It was a setup that made WWE look both draconian, for expecting such a commitment from punters, and foolish, because there was such a clear and simple loophole.

Allowing people to sample a streaming service for a month has worked out very well for Netflix. The idea is that people will see how beneficial the service is to them and not opt out before their free trial ends. It’s something WWE should keep going after November, although I suspect they’ll cancel it at least for a while in order to make November a particularly successful month.

Rusev versus Sheamus at Survivor Series? Probs.
The implications of this free trial should be obvious for Survivor Series. Basically people can get that show without paying anything. Theoretically this could result in a scenario where nobody buys Survivor Series, opting to get a Network subscription instead. In fact this may be WWE’s ideal scenario as they’re likely hoping for a dip in PPV sales as people choose to watch the show for free via the Network (except for those poor unfortunates who have already paid, natch). They want subscribers more than they want pay-per-view customers at the moment because that’s the only way the Network is going to become a success.

WWE really needs to ensure that Survivor Series is a cracking show. If they can make it one of their best supercard offerings of the year they might be able to convince people to stay signed up to the Network for another month to see the next pay-per-view for a cheap price. If it’s a poor effort it’s giving people one more reason to cancel their Network membership. Poor special events are not appealing. Well, modern ones aren’t. Personally I’m looking forward to watching some Russo era WCW.

So far there’s no evidence that WWE sees the use of pay-per-view quality as an enticement to sign up to the Network. They seem to be operating on the logic that the Network, at $9.99 a month, is a significantly better deal than the $50-plus you’d pay just for a PPV. They’re right that it’s a better deal, but that doesn’t bother some people. Many will only buy select PPVs that carry a certain level of hype. In order to convert them into Network subcribers WWE has to make its supershows consistently excellent and appealing, so that they find themselves tempted to purchase them more often and end up seeing that a Network subscription would be beneficial.

This is not revolutionary stuff. But the fact that WWE has not gone out of their way to make pay-per-views any better since WrestleMania makes me think that they’re not interested in attracting Network subscriptions in this fashion. Or at least they haven’t been until now. Essentially giving away Survivor Series for free indicates that WWE may have changed their minds on this.

Right now the card does not look sufficiently exhilarating. The Team Cena versus Team Authority match is something that could be good in terms of quality but it’s still a tough sell because it will feature interactions we’ve seen so many times before (and, generally speaking, people get less excited about tag matches than they do singles). The likely Sheamus versus Rusev and confirmed Ambrose versus Wyatt matches seem far more intriguing. Both of those are fresh and feature guys who have been presented as big deals this year (well, except Shaymo, but he’s inexplicably popular anyway). The company could do a lot worse than concentrating its promotional powers more on Ambrose and Wyatt than the clash of the Teams, and giving the US championship match build-up more TV time than it would receive under usual circumstances. Basically, highlight the more interesting aspects of the card. And put together four or five other genuinely interesting matches with reasons for happening too. Give people a reason to care about product.

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