The WWE Network is ready to launch next month. It’s just not what you may have expected it to look like.
Instead of a new TV channel that would air WWE’s pay-per-views and original shows, that programming will now be offered through a streaming service starting Feb. 24.
Taking advantage of the growing popularity of services like Netflix, WWE Network will be available on most digital platforms, including WWE.com, and as an app for Android, Apple, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire mobile devices; on Roku boxes and the Sony PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox 360 video game consoles. Access through smart TVs and the Xbox One will be added this summer.
WWE is essentially launching its own version of HBO Go, but where subscribers pay WWE rather than a cable or satellite provider to access the content.
“We have the content and we have the fanbase willing to pay for it and build it,” said Michelle Wilson, chief revenue and marketing officer for WWE, who was on hand to announce the channel’s launch during a press event Wednesday evening at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
WWE Network subscriptions will cost $9.99 a month, with a six month commitment. Sign ups will be managed through the WWE website.
As was previously announced, the WWE Network will live stream all 12 of WWE PPV events, including “WrestleMania,” enhanced with interactive features. It will also feature live daily shows, reality series, documentaries and access to a video-on-demand library of all WWE, WCW and ECW PPVs, classic matches and replays of episodes of “Monday Night Raw,” “Friday Night SmackDown” and “Main Event” after they air on USA Network, Syfy and ION Television. Episodes of “Superstars” and “NXT” will also air on the new digital network.
One of the first new series is a live pre- and post-show “Raw” and “SmackDown,” along with “The Monday Night War,” that explores the rivalry between Vince McMahon’s WWE and Ted Turner’s WCW in the 1990s; “WrestleMania Rewind,” a look at the PPV’s more notable matches; and “WWE Countdown,” a one-hour ranking show.
In April, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Tony Atlas and Hacksaw Jim Duggan will appear in “WWE Legends House,” and highlight show “WWE Superstars” will debut.
While the upcoming “WrestleMania 30” and other PPVs will be part of the WWE Network’s subscription package, those events will still be sold through cable and satellite providers as they are now.
Continuing to make them available on those platforms enabled WWE to avoid angering PPV providers while also keeping an existing revenue stream in place.
“WrestleMania” is priced at $55 for an HD version, while other PPVs typically cost $45.
But WWE is positioning network subscriptions as a more attractive offering that should help entice its fans to open their wallets and help WWE build a new business. Company is in a unique position to have programming a large fanbase already pays for, rather than start from scratch with a pay-TV service built around shows that haven’t yet found a large following.
That audience includes fans overseas where the network will start to roll out in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Nordic countries by the end of the year.
WWE executives chose the February launch date because it follows the “Elimination Chamber” PPV and kicks off the six-week ramp up to “WrestleMania 30,” treated by the company as its Super Bowl.
“We looked at when the best time of year was to launch this, and felt ‘WrestleMania 30’ was a great hook,” Wilson said.
New WWE Network debuts as WWE is about to sit down with NBCUniversal to renegotiate the licensing fees for all of its TV shows and seek out a richer deal. Company is looking to get the kind of dollars live sporting events command from broadcasters.
In addition to the new TV deals, WWE sees its digital network as a significant way to boost its bottom line this year. It has said it needs 800,000 to 1 million subscribers for the WWE Network to break even. Each subscription will generate around $600 for the company per year.
WWE will also sell a limited amount of sponsorship and ads to appear on the network, but most shows will stream commercial free.
Content on the new network also won’t be exclusively PG the way its current line up of TV shows are, a move that was meant to attract a broader family audience. Instead, the network will feature a range of series, with content rated TV-14 or TV-MA preceded by advisory messages. Parental controls are also available.
WWE has been developing the WWE Network over the past four years, and had originally planned on launching a cable-based TV channel, similar to the NFL Network. But cable and satellite providers aren’t clamoring to launch new networks as they grapple with escalating programming costs, rights fees and cord-cutting customers.
Instead, the move to digital gives WWE an opportunity to fully control its own network in a way that also allows it to collect much of the revenue, as well.
Helping influence its switch to digital was the growth of its own WWE app, which claims over 9 million downloads to date, but also the success of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
“We did our research and said this is catching up faster than we expected,” Wilson said.
WWE also saw how its fans consume five time more digital content than the average online viewer and are twice as likely to own a subscription to a streaming service. Over 60 percent of its fans have also said they would likely watch the WWE Network on TV through an Internet-connected device like a video game console, Roku or Apple TV box, while 30 percent would watch on a computer and 7 percent on mobile devices.
“Over-the-top became a very viable option,” Wilson added, “so we said maybe we should rethink this and look at an alternative model where we would be in control of our own destiny.”
WWE worked with MLB Advanced Media to build the WWE Network and the multiple versions of apps for various platforms. The Xbox One app won’t launch until later this summer because Microsoft is backlogged putting the finishing touches on other apps that will launch on the next-generation console.
MLBAM has offered a live video subscription service for Major League Baseball since 2002, and manages the streaming of events for ESPN, CBS Sports, TheBlaze TV and in-flight broadband TV provider Row 44.