Pro Wrestling Goes High Tech With Streaming Network


World Wrestling Entertainment is to launch a combined online streaming channel and video-on-demand service. From a tech rather than takedown perspective it’s an interesting twist on existing online services, made possible by the company’s unusual business model.

The WWE Network, which will cost $9.99 a month (with a minimum six-month commitment), will be available as a website, through smartphone/tablet apps and through dedicated apps on devices such as the PS3 and Roku.

It will have two separate elements. One is a Netflix style video-on-demand library which will begin with a complete archive of pay-per-view events from WWE and two of its former rivals, WCW and ECW, plus an archive of WWE’s Raw and WCW’s Nitro TV programs. Eventually the archive will be expanded to cover other TV shows (including from other now defunct promotions) and content previously released on video and DVD.

Unlike Netflix, there’ll also be a streaming “TV” channel which operates to a fixed schedule, made up of archive programming, new content (such as reality shows) and live material including the monthly special events such as WrestleMania that currently air on pay-per-view. (The PPVs will continue to be available to buy individually for people who don’t or can’t get the network.)

The promotion’s main weekly TV shows such as Raw and Smackdown will remain on television (currently USA and SyFy) for their original airing but will be replayed on the online network at some point.

One particularly neat feature of the channel is that, although it will air live, it will have a DVR-like feature that means you can watch the currently “airing” program from the beginning if you come in mid-way through. As soon as a show finishes airing, it will instantly be added to the on-demand archive.

There’ll also be a separate “second screen” app linked to the channel, which will include social media feeds discussing the show and profiles on the performers appearing on-screen.

While the company is billing this as a brilliant vision, the set-up was by no means its first choice. It has been working on the network idea for several years, originally pitching it as a regular channel like ESPN for which cable firms would pay a carriage fee of a few cents for each subscriber (regardless of whether they ever watched the channel.)

When that failed to find any interest, WWE pitched the idea of being a standalone premium cable channel, similar to Showtime or HBO. That also got little interest, largely because cable carriers believed the $5 a month or so they’d get for each subscriber would come nowhere close to making up for losing their share of pay-per-view revenue

WWE has been open about the fact that it previously thought an online-only service wasn’t viable but that the success of Netflix from both a business and technical perspective has changed its mind. While it’s clearly much more of a niche service, one huge advantage is that unlike Netflix, WWE has tens of thousands of hours of archive material from its own shows and those of other wrestling groups, meaning it won’t have to pay licensing fees.

Several smaller wrestling groups have had repeated problems trying to air live shows over the Internet, though WWE will be partnering with the company behind Major League Baseball’s online service to make sure things run smoothly.

The network launches on February 24 in the US. Launches in several other countries including Canada and the UK are planned for late 2014/early 2015, with the delays seemingly the result of exclusivity clauses in existing TV contracts.

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