February 24, 2014
WWE Network Launches
When I was a kid, WWE created a DVD box set that contained every WrestleMania up until that point, which I think was WrestleMania 20. I wanted nothing more in the world than that box set, but I think it retailed for around $200 and my parents were not going to spend $200 on wrestling DVDs.
At the same time, I never saw PPV events live. My parents didn’t care that I watched wrestling, but they were not fans and were not going to spend $50-$60 each month on a wrestling PPV. So I never saw any wrestling events on PPV, except for SummerSlam 2006 because it was in Boston and I attended live.
Later, I would get a Netflix account and before everyone just streamed content on Netflix, you would select movies online and they would ship the DVDs to your home through the mail. I think I was in eighth grade at the time, and I soon discovered that all of the old WWE PPVs were on Netflix, so I started getting them sent to my house. Each week I would get one WWE show in the mail and I’d be able to watch it; eventually making my way through most of the WWE’s archives.
I’m telling you this because like most of you, I grew up a really big wrestling fan, but my access to the premium content like PPVs or expensive DVD collections was limited by being a child. If you told 10 year old me that essentially every wrestling PPV of the 20th century, plus live shows, would be at my fingertips for just $9.99 a month, it would be complete and utter heaven. I would have traded anything for that.
In Feb. 2014, that dream came true with the launch of the WWE Network, an over-the-top streaming service that would fundamentally change how fans watched wrestling. The amount of content made available on the Network was (and still is) amazing and you can spend years plowing through all of the various shows and events the Network has created.
The Network would influence many different facets of the business, the first being access to content, both for former shows and current PPVs, which were now much more attainable to the average, or casual fan. PPVs went from being something that only fans who were really invested in the product to something that pretty much any casual fan would watch.
The Network also became home to NXT, who found a home first on the Network before the weekly programming would be moved to USA in 2019. Without proving to be a viable entity on the Network, it is unlikely that NXT would have taken off the way it did by promoting major, PPV-level shows on the Saturday before major WWE PPV events, and effectively emerging as WWE’s answer to independent wrestling.
The biggest change though, would be the Network ending PPV buys as the barometer of promotional success. From the late 1980s to the launch of the Network, the amount of PPV buys a show would generate determined how successful a company did in promoting the show, and how interesting fans found the major matches that were advertised for the show. At the same time, a huge of wrestlers’ salaries were bonuses they would earn if a PPV show did well, and it is unclear if that has been adjusted into their salaries now that PPV buys are virtually non-existent in the Network-era.
While the Network has been extremely beneficial to wrestling fans because they get so much more bang for their buck, there are some negatives that stem from the Network replacing PPV. In the past, promotions would be beholden to produce compelling storylines to build to a PPV, because if a PPV flopped, the promotion would lose a lot of money. In the era of a Network and monthly/yearly renewals, WWE no longer has to be concerned about each PPV show being a big seller. If one out of every four shows are entertaining, most fans will “pay” for the three bad shows by continuing to pay for the Network each month.
While the PPVs are now much cheaper, the flip side is that they inherently are less important. Take this month for example, WWE has a PPV next Sunday, and yet now, ten days out from TLC, the company hasn’t announced any matches on television for the show. They could have never done that in the PPV era, because they would be taking a bath on the show if they didn’t have it sufficiently hyped.
In the PPV era, WWE would have never tried to push Roman Reigns as long as they did because if he wasn’t selling PPVs, they would have had to go an alternate route. Without PPV sales being the barometer month to month, WWE could remain steadfast in their belief that Reigns was going to be the guy even as fans rejected him. WWE would have never been able to push Jinder Mahal as the WWE Champion for months as a way to try to exploit the Indian market, because fans who didn’t buy him as a champion wouldn’t buy the PPVs he was headlining. Without PPV making or breaking business, WWE doesn’t have to produce compelling storylines week-to-week, which in some cases punishes fans for their loyalty.
Still, the Network overall has had a positive effect for fans by offering a ridiculous amount of content for $9.99 a month. A huge portion of wrestling history is now at the fingertips of anyone who would want to access it, as well as every live show. It would be impossible for WWE to go back to the old way, fans have become greatly accustomed to getting the shows for $10 each month. The Network also paved the way for other streaming services, including New Japan World and ROH’s Honor Club, which allowed fans to access some of the few wrestling promotions NOT on the Network for a small monthly fee. If you are watching wrestling in 2019 and it isn’t RAW, SmackDown or AEW Dynamite, chances are the WWE Network had some sort of influence on it.
This article is the third in a series of articles discussing the most significant moments in wrestling over the past ten years. Make sure to check back on Tuesday for the next installment in the series
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