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WWE Network is Cable’s Canary in the Coal Mine

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WWE Network logoSince the beginning of television, wrestling has been there. The outlandish characters, the costumes, the acrobatics and the soap opera fit the new medium like a glove.  In the 1970s, wrestling is what Ted Turner credits for keeping TBS going in the early days, and the shows from his WCW and the now-WWE fought an epic battle for the #1 slot every week in the ’90s. Pay-per-View was introduced to a lot of homes by Wrestlemania, with people now paying $50 or so a shot for the monthly big show, and creating a model that MMA has followed to great success.

We’ve talked a lot about how hard it is for any established network to take itself online, and away from the cable companies without slitting their own throat. However, the WWE Network  has taken the first step for an entire industry into a more diverse world, and everyone will be watching.

For over a decade, Vince McMahon, the genius behind the worldwide wrestling explosion into the mainstream for the last 30 years has been acquiring, well, everything. From his former rivals WCW and ECW, to defunct but important regional promotions, he has bought their tape libraries willy-nilly.  First testing the waters with WWE 24/7, a VOD PPV service that contained a selection of classic matches and events each month, McMahon tied to market a linear cable channel for years, but no one would give it to him. They’ve produced TV pilots, or even entire series hoping to sell them to someone; no dice.

Then came Netflix, and everything started to change. The last year of original programming like House of Cards has proven that if you build it, they will come.The WWE is taking matters into their own hands with the WWE Network. This new service will, for $9.99 a month, provide you with the full weekly shows (no edited Hulu Plus version of RAW), original programming like the surreal House-esque Legends House, and access to hundreds of thousands of hours of back programming (starting with every PPV from WWE, ECW, and WCW), but every single pay per view, live, as it happens (80% off the PPV fees alone).

The WWE is rolling the dice here. At a time when they are busy re-negotiating their contract with NBC/Universal, and demanding much higher fees in line with what they’re really worth (the WWE pulls more eyeballs than NASCAR, and they run 52 weeks a year to a worldwide audience), they risk pissing off the 1200-pound gorilla. At the same time, the fact that they have somewhere to go that cannot be taken away may give them a certain amount of leverage in negotiations. Regardless,whether or not people are willing to buy onto the first linear cable/VOD package from a major entertainment company is going to be watched by nearly everyone.  How many of you who are cord cutting would buy, for example, a Viacom package that included linear feeds of channels like Spike and Comedy Central for a similar price?  How many people have been clamoring for HBO GO? It’s a lot, and if the WWE can convince enough fans around the world to sign onto the network, it’s going to be gigantic. Unlike other media companies, they own the worldwide rights to everything they have, so there’s no expiration, no renewals, and at least 7 hours of new programming weekly. If it fails, we’re likely to see a bit of a retreat from the unsanctioned by cable providers move to the Internet for quite some time. We’ll see what happens, but no mater what, get ready entertainment world, say your prayers and eat your vitamins, because Streaming Mania just might run wild all over you.

The WWE Network will be available starting February 24th for $9.99 with a 6-month commitment on PC, Mac, Mobile and Tablet Platforms, with Xbox One and Smart TV apps following by summer.

As an aside, Mae Young, a pioneer of female wrestling, and a major player in that golden age of television, who continued in the business, even wrestling into her ’80s,  was just taken off life support as I write this. My thoughts are with her, and her family. If you’re unfamiliar with her, or just fascinated by those early days of television,  I can’t recommend the documentary, which you can find on Netflix “Lipstick & Dynamite” more.

More Information: [World Wrestling Entertainment]

 

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