World Wrestling Entertainment announced plans to launch a 24/7 linear streaming channel dedicated to their popular worldwide brand of sports entertainment, or as we tend to call it, professional wrestling. The WWE Network goes live on February 24 immediately following their popular prime-time showcase, Monday Night RAW. In addition to the streaming channel, the WWE Network will have a large video-on-demand service where fans can access documentaries, original programming, classic matches, pay-per-views, and network programming from the WWE, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) libraries. The network is promising at least 1500 hours of VOD programming at launch, which is quite impressive.
The WWE Network will be accessible across all digital devices, including iOS and Android-powered devices, Roku, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and gaming consoles using the WWE App. Monthly charges for the network (which will also include all 12 WWE Pay-Per-View events [WrestleMania XXX will be the first PPV shown on the WWE Network]) will be $9.95/month with a six-month commitment. You could find out more about the channel at their official site.
Normally this is where I would conclude the article, but after watching the press event live and researching what the WWE Network is about to do, I am curious about what it means for the entertainment industry.
There is “Old Media” and there is “New Media.” Old Media is what has existed for a bit over a century. Hollywood studios and the cable companies they either made or bought and the cable operators that could make or break a network. It’s an old system that has remained in place longer than many of us have been alive. They’re unwilling to change. In fact, anything that deviates from that system scares them, but as long as they’re pulling the strings in the industry, that mentality remains the status quo. New Media is the kick in the butt in the way we look at entertainment. They’re the ones who gave people more power to control what they watch and when they watch it. They’re setting up rules and breaking them each and every cycle. More people have access to make and upload anything they want to, and it has the Old Media guard running scared, as they should be. Sadly, a lot of New Media companies are being courted by Old Media players who don’t really understand why they’re popular. Truth be told, the only reason you’re seeing Old Media scoop up New Media groups is because they can’t handle the competition. We can’t upset the order, you know?
Right now, Vince McMahon and company are doing something nobody thought they would. They’re building and creating a channel from the ground up and going directly to the public. No cable operators are at play here. They didn’t buy a husk of a network and made it their own but wouldn’t own outright. The WWE Network is 100% owned by the WWE. It’s not a joint-venture, it’s not co-owned by a cable operator or Hollywood studio. They own and operate the channel themselves. They make the programming choices, utilizing all their resources (including their live-programming facilities and library assets), and creating a network for professional wrestling fans. While it’s not the first 24/7 streaming channel as they’ve been hyping, the WWE Network will have one of the biggest launches of any entertainment network, accessible to anyone with a mobile device, a laptop, a desktop, a streaming media box, or a gaming console. The WWE Network could possibly be the first true New Media network in existence.
And it’s something Old Media companies should roll their eyes at.
What the WWE has done is create a template of sorts. They’re a content producer with a huge library (over 120,000 hours that span over seven decades) and creating new programming featuring their talent in traditional and alternative settings every week. And now they have their own network. Limited advertising since their stable of Superstars and Divas ARE the product, but they’ll have sponsorship slots that fit the programming. A linear channel with a video-on-demand service at your fingertips with different shows and specials a month at no extra charge.
Surely one of those Old Media companies with deeper content wells than WWE could make something similar to the WWE Network if they wanted to.
Imagine if, for example, Warner Bros. relaunched The WB as a linear 24/7 streaming channel today. An entertainment channel that airs classic and modern favorites from the Warner Bros. library, a Kids’ WB! block with classic and new projects from Warner Bros. Animation, and uncut movies from the WB/New Line/Turner libraries streaming across a subscription-based channel while you could look at one of hundreds of selections of shows, shorts, and films On-Demand when you want to watch them at no additional charge. Or how about if Disney created a D23 streamingchannel for their older, yet loyal fans that combines classic Disney shows and shorts that the Disney networks won’t show on-air into a network experience? What if Sony finally created an American version of Animax as a subscription-based linear channel with VOD capabilities that included world premieres of Aniplex shows and you could access a show in English or the original Japanese with a simple touch?
The WWE Network has created a great template for Old Media types to follow and make their own. But as long as they’re tied to cable operators, they won’t, and that’s a shame. Still, this grand experiment the WWE is planning this February should be worth checking out, especially if you’re a wrestling fan.