Brave New World

Nick Paglino

The revelation that the WWE Network will change the company’s big-show philosophy and make a majority of them available via cable subscription will alter the pro wrestling landscape.

WWE reportedly hopes to launch WWE Network on WrestleMania Sunday. WWE Network would be premium programming made available through cable companies a part of a tiered system. The more a subscriber pays, the more programming he gets.

It’s being reported that all WWE pay-per-views would be obsolete, that everything except for existing TV shows would air on WWE Network. Raw would stay on USA, Smackdown on SyFy. It’s actually likely, however, that the WWE’s “big four” events (WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble) would remain on pay-per-view.

This either works big, or doesn’t work at all – though keeping the “big four” on PPV definitely hedges the bet.

It seems a good move, though. Hardcore WWE fans purchase by habit, not according to product quality. WWE Network enables them to feed that habit – and pay for it – on a daily basis. What about Raw and Smackdown? Hey, kids – the first taste is free.

Keeping the “big four” on PPV – especially WrestleMania – enables casual fans to chip. I know people who don't otherwise watch football that never miss a Super Bowl. Same with ‘Mania.

Will customer fees for WWE Network be more than revenue lost by dropping eight PPVs? That, and nothing else, determines winning or losing. Similar networks are paid between 15-25 cents per month per subscriber. Let’s say 20 cents. WWE’s goal is to be in 40 million homes by WrestleMania. That’s $8 million in revenue per month – TO START.

PPV buy rates, meanwhile, are shrinking. WWE thinks that part of their business model is dying. Maybe that's true. Maybe it’s just evolution. Or maybe it’s just oversaturation combined with crap product.

The switch could be a big bonus for creative. Hopefully, they’ll treat the monthly big events on WWE Network merely as inflated versions of Raw and Smackdown. That would enable them to craft storyline climaxes primarily for the “big four,” using the monthly big events as stepping stones, just like Raw and Smackdown. (Actually, WWE creative may be doing that already, except for the part about climaxes. Every PPV seems like just another TV show.)

This will result in some horrific programming by way of filling time 24/7. Have all the divas live in a house. Have all the old-timers live in a house. Have the divas and old-timers share a house. Have the divas orgy with Tony Atlas. (That would be late-night programming.) Scott Hall vs. Dr. Drew: Celebrity Rehab TLC match. (Scott would use one of the ladders to escape rehab.) Reality programming is cheap, so expect the WWE Network to indulge.

WWE also owns an extensive collection of wrestling tape libraries. Just go back to a certain point of time and run those chronologically. See 10 years of WCW Saturday Night – beginning THIS SATURDAY NIGHT! One danger (and I’m not kidding): Re-airing glory days of yore might make the current product seem vastly inferior.

BTW, WWE does NOT own Mid-South Wrestling’s glory-days tape library from the 1980s. DAMMIT! Wish I’d seen more of that.

A suggestion for programming: While WWE seems to be striving to make wrestling farcical by way of rubbing customers’ noses in how fake it is, perhaps VKM could take 1-2 hours per day and present SportsCenter-style coverage of WWE actually designed to enhance the product. A couple anchors, lots of highlights, first-run promos, "news" reports that further storylines – and it can repeat frequently.

One challenge: Will cable companies want to carry a wrestling network? Wrestling is a moneymaker, but considered déclassé. WWE has an in with Comcast (owner of USA Network), but what about the rest? The main reason WCW folded was because TBS executive Jamie Kellner was embarrassed to see wrestling on TBS and TNT.

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