A year ago, when the WWE Network was still in its infancy, I wrote an article offering some things that might be done to entice potential subscribers to give it a go. At the time, the network was sitting on a half-million paid subscribers, a number which sent its ballooned stock tumbling and cut in half.
Since then, the network has slowly increased its foothold, with over a million people paying for the service. This expansion of the base is in part due to the opening up of european markets as well as WWE’s recent strategy of giving away entire months’ free. November, February, April and May have all be offered to subscribers. At the rate they’re going, WWE will be giving away every month except for those hosting the “Big Four” PPV shows.
It’s hard to see how this strategy can be effective in the long term. At some point people are going to have to pay the company year-round. George Barrios, WWE’s financial spokseman, has mentioned in the past the company’s struggle to break viewers of the old PPV model, where fans were conditioned to pick and choose events. WWE’s new model is for a steady and consistant subscription. Instead of giving the company $60 dollars a few times a year, they want $10 a month, every month, forever.
Yet they keep giving away the month’s that have a B-PPV show. That’s kind of sending a mixed message, no?
It seems, however, that there is a long term strategy here. Dave Meltzer revealed a few days ago that the most watched media on the Network is the new content that the company has produced (the PPV events, the podcasts, the documentaries, even Jerry Springer), whereas the library media (old episodes of Raw, Nitro, ECW, etc) are at the bottom of the list. If you watched Raw recently, you would have noticed that the announcers were hyping the Network by focusing on that new content. JBL even pointed out that NXT runs “something new every week” which all but confirms Meltzer’s take on the Network viewers’ habits.
In my article last year I mentioned several things WWE might do to expand the Network’s audience. Most of what I wrote focused on the format of the Network. I mentioned the need for a “30 second skip” option when watching videos, because the tracking bar is too imprecise. I brought up a “fab five” feature that, upon selecting one of your five favorite performers, lets the Network randomly select and play a clip featuring that performer (be it a promo or a match), as a way to avoid the “what to watch” problem that plagues other internet streaming services.
Not much has been done in the past year with regards to the layout of the Network. A few minor tweaks have been made, but for the most part the design is as it was last year. It’s clear the priority for WWE is on the content, not the way it is viewed. So what about the content?
A year ago, inspired by the three day tribute to Ultimate Warrior, I suggested WWE do “themed days/weeks/months” and said this:
Imagine a themed month in June dedicated to King of the Ring. In addition to replaying the PPV’s in primetime, you also do retrospectives akin to “WrestleMania Rewind” featuring sit-down talks (or, as they usually do, chopped up bits from previously released documentaries) from past winners or participants in big matches. Have Countdown (the consistently-best show on the Network) cover the top-10 winners, top-10 matches, top-10 runners-up, top-10 reigns of the king, etc
Imagine Stone Cold Week and let the ideas flood your brain. Imagine a Sting Week and just think of the interest that would bring in (his will he/won’t he with the WWE is one of the top wrestling-related searches on the internet) Why not a Great American Bash Month with specials hosted by Dusty Rhodes? The possibilities are endless. You run very little risk of alienating anyone (there’ll be plenty of time for other programming to air), while at the same time you stand to gain potential viewers who might be interested in a ECW day or a Eddie Guerrero Week. Content like that not only keeps current viewers engaged, it gives them a reason to talk about the Network with those who are on the fence.
Just a few weeks ago we saw the return of King of the Ring; later this month Elimination Chamber makes a network-exclusive comeback, but these are ideas that only scratch the surface of what can be done. King of the Ring lasted, essentially, one day. Elimination Chamber is a gimmick attached to the final day of a free month campaign. The problems boil down to a lack of foresight. By all indications, Elimination Chamber was a decision made and announced within a 48 hour span. It was announced on the air, and will be again a few more times before the show, but so much is being left on the table. There have been seventeen elimination chamber matches; more than enough to build a themed week or two around, with interviews, best-of countdowns, and replays of the matches themselves.
King of the Ring was brought back to great excitement but it ended up being a tacked-on backdrop to the regular Raw mid-card scene, and then finished off with a one hour special the next night. The whole fun of the tournament though is in seeing it play out over a few weeks. That’s the problem when you hastily decide something: it gets hastily executed.
Wrestler-specific themes haven’t been touched on by the company either, and that’s a goldmine waiting to be tapped. Warrior Week last year was a big hit. Weeks devoted to Austin, Rock, Hogan, Sting, Goldberg, DX, etc, could all be big. There’s more than enough huge superstars and more than enough material in the vault to run a themed week once a month.
And then there’s the bread and butter of the network. Last year I said this:
With satellite providers dropping support for WWE Pay-Per-View events, it is imperative that the PPV shows on the network never take a month off. Gone are the days when the company could run Randy Orton vs Big Show as a PPV main event and think, “we’ll do something better next month.” That mindset worked in the days of 12-14 PPVs a year, where everyone knew they weren’t going to get people to pay $60 bucks three months in a row. They’d take a month off, sacrificing one buyrate, in the hopes of popping a bigger one the next month.
A year later and that’s pretty much where we are. WWE still treats their PPV’s lightly, with cards barely hyped beyond the main event. A week removed from Payback and WWE barely has an announced card. As of Tuesday before the show there are five matches being advertised, not counting the pre-show match. If new content is what is driving subscriptions, it behooves WWE to focus on their monthly PPV’s, to create fresh (new) matchups and new stars to work them.
A year ago all we heard was “$9.99” as though the price was the only thing good about the Network. That strategy was flawed because I can show you a sixty dollar video game that I’m selling for only ten dollars, but if you don’t play video games, the price doesn’t matter. I have to first convince to want the product, then I can reel you in with an affordable price.
WWE is only just starting to hype what is on the network, but they still have a ways to go. We’ll just back next year and see if they’ve finally turned a corner.
Maybe by then I’ll have my “Disco Inferno Week” on the WWE Network.