WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, has recently announced that its new WWE Network will be digital. That probably stemmed from not being able to come to carriage fee agreements with many cable/satellite companies as much as it did from the company seeing the future of entertainment video being digital. In the end, WWE announced that it will only be available digitally, but might not include everything their fans are hoping for, at least, not yet.
The WWE Channel is set to go live on February 24th and the subscription will be $9.99 a month, minimum six month agreement. The channel will stream to all devices with a maximum resolution of 720p. It will include all the major pay-per-view events, push notifications for mobile devices, second screen content in the app, merchandise sales, ticket sales and more.
First Run Episodes of WWE Raw & Smackdown Not Included
What it won’t include, and this was probably to keep the shows from getting pulled from the USA and SyFy cable channels (or from some breach of contract problems), are first-run episodes of WWE Raw and WWE Smackdown. Since that is currently how the majority of their fans engage with the show, it would be insane to pull the plug on that deal. Both USA and SyFy are generally included in basic tier channel packages fans are not accustomed for paying extra just for their WWE content but they are used to paying for major events from the company.
The big deal here is that even against the recent BCS Championship, WWE Raw pulled around 4.5 million viewers. Last year’s Wrestlemania had over a million PPV purchases. Most of the 12 major events run $50 or more for access so anyone who has been buying one or more a year will certainly be interested in getting the WWE Channel subscription and end up saving money in the long run.
Currently, the cable shows Raw and Smackdown bookend the week airing Monday and Friday. If the WWE Channel takes off it could signal a move to further original content specifically for the all-digital channel (WWEdnesday Wipeout?) meaning diehard fans would need to start subscribing in order to keep up with every plot twist and turn happening in the storylines of their favorite characters. That could turn WWE into a major new player in original online video content, granted, it would all be wrestling and soap opera-like stories. But it hits with their fans and they know their business well.
If those same million people who bought last year’s Wrestlemania sign up for the WWE Channel come February, they are pulling in a cool $10M a month on it. That might be enough of a start for them to ponder pulling Raw and Smackdown from cable, the TV rights deals are up right around March so you can see the pivotal timing of the WWE Channel launch. It would be pretty much unprecedented but they could pull both shows off cable and make them digital only. The WWE has said a million subs would be break even. Two million could be the point where they create digital only original shows, four million could be the point where they pull their shows from cable, hypothetically anyway.
That would be like the NFL pulling all games off broadcast networks. The difference is that WWE fans are used to paying to get access to the shows via pay-TV subscriptions and PPV events so cutting that cable and signing up for the digital channel might not be such a stretch for this particular audience.
To fill in all the other time and make the $9.99/month worthwhile, WWE is offering up 1,500 hours of past programming video on demand as well as pre- and post-show commentary for Raw, no word on Smackdown. That could also easily spill over into second screen content during the shows making the experience more interactive and adjusting the thought patterns of their fans toward digital in an all new way. This could turn out to be one of the most interesting TV to online transitions this year. Imagine what they could do by activating a million fans via the second screen during the show. Surveys, polls, real-time data coming in and getting compiled to turn around and be displayed within the shows themselves. They have already had a “social media Smackdown” episode showing they understand the importance of the brand’s social media presence.
The WWE Channel is slated to be available February 24th at 11:05pm on Kindle, Android, iOS, Roku, Playstation and Xbox 360 as well as on WWE.com for desktops and laptops. I will be keeping a close eye on this because it could have ramifications in both the pay-TV world as well as the online digital entertainment world.