It goes without saying that popular culture travels in many directions. Most pop culture items fade away, others come back as “retro,” and some evolve with the times. One such item that has evolved in its 30-plus year reign as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports Entertainment” is WWE (Formerly World Wrestling Entertainment and World Wrestling Federation). Chairman, CEO, and creator of WWE Vince McMahon took what was originally perceived at something found at a carnival – men wrestling around on a mat for both sport as well as the amusement of fans – and turned it into a global phenomenon.
I grew up in the 1980s, during the height of Hulkamania and the birth of Wrestlemania. Legends such as Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and the Ultimate Warrior were the fan favorites. In the 1990s, times had changed. The culture moved from super cool, family-friendly type stuff into MTV-punk rock-Howard Stern counter-culture. With it, McMahon turned to guys like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who headlined the new “Attitude Era,” to take on rivals World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. By the 2000s, times had once again changed. WWE was the last man standing (save for some independent promotions, and a still to this day struggling promotion known as Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling – TNA for short). With the Attitude Era pretty much over by the mid-2000s, McMahon turned to stars like John Cena and CM Punk to usher in a once again family-friendly wrestling brand.
Today, WWE is still a global phemomenon. They not only air two blockbuster TV shows in Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown, but WWE sells a vast array of Superstar merchandise, action figures, DVDs, video games, and more. Plus, they have their own movie production company, and churn out a few titles each year (most usually star John Cena, their current bread-and-butter). This past year, they launched their own app which featured a second-screen interactive experience. Certain matches or stipulations could be voted on with a tap of your smartphone screen. With all the popularity, merchandise revenue, etc., where could WWE go from there? The WWE Universe (as it’s called) got its answer this past Wednesday. WWE announced a monumental press conference at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. The rumor mill said they would finally unveil the launch of the WWE Network. The Network had been previously announced in Fall 2011 for a 2012 launch. Unfortunately, WWE was unable to come to any agreements with cable providers to carry the Network.
With the news and rumors, I personally expected a big announcement for WWE Network on cable (no doubt, considering how ridiculously expensive my Optimum triple play is, a channel I would have to pay even more money for). WWE, however, threw us for a loop. McMahon and Company announced that the WWE Network would be an “Over the Top” 24/7 streaming online service, akin to Netflix or Hulu. The Network will be available, starting February 24th online as well as on virtually every device made: Kindle Fire, iOS/Android Devices, Roku, Playstation 3 and 4 consoles, and Xbox 360. Support will be added eventually for Xbox One and select Smart TVs. The Network was designed by the same people who put together MLB’s own online streaming service.
The network itself promises to have both live 24/7 original content as well as classic OnDemand content from not only WWE/F but also WCW and ECW. Original content will include titles such as “Wrestlemania Rewind,” a deeper look into past Wrestlemania shows by both the superstars involved as well as current ones who grew up watching, and “Legends House,” a “new” (recorded a year or so ago when the Network was originally set to launch) reality show, featuring Legends like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mean” Gene Okerlund living together in a house, doing silly reality-based stuff.
On top of this, a subscription to the network will also include the ability to watch all 12 Pay Per Views that WWE offers each year, starting with Wrestlemania 30 this coming April. With all of this jam-packed into the subscription, and taking into account the $50 average price of a PPV, you may be thinking the price tag on the WWE Network is going to be a hefty one. You’re completely wrong… WWE Network is set to be priced at $9.99 a month (and then in small print… ‘with a 6 month commitment’ – not that the average WWE fan would care).
While all of this sounds fantastic, it certainly brings to light another revelation. The internet is rapidly becoming a true competitor to cable and satellite providers, and networks/companies are starting to realize this. Sure, that’s a no-brainer, but consider this: cable and satellite providers charge you up the wazoo for a select set of channels. You only end up watching a certain amount of channels anyway, and the rest are just left to flip by or occasionally keep on for less than a second out of morbid curiosity. At one point, there was talk about making cable more “carte blanche” where you could choose and pay for what channels you wanted. This idea has since lost steam as cable companies continue their greedy practices and force the occasional blackouts of random channels due to fee and pricing conflicts. I have to imagine this is similar to the greedy practices McMahon probably encountered when shopping WWE Network around to cable systems. So what did he do? He thought outside the box, and embraced the internet where he can charge a small subscription fee to an infinite amount of fans interested in watching his product.
For myself, honestly, between WWE, [adult swim], movies on Netflix, and television on Hulu, I really don’t see the need to be paying for cable at this point. The rules have certainly changed, and I for one can’t wait until February to not only see the WWE Network, but also witness the start of an internet revolution.
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