WWE’s Digital Takeover

By: Ben Okun

The new millennium saw a new trend in television as a number of successful sports leagues launched league-branded channels. First came the NBA, launching NBA TV in 1999. Next, the NFL launched its now wildly popular NFL Network in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the MLB and NHL launched MLB.TV and NHL Network respectively. Now, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is following in these leagues’ footsteps, by announcing the launch of the WWE Network beginning on February 24, 2014.

However, the WWE is taking a different approach than the other major sports leagues and is following the Netflix model by creating a 24/7 digital subscription network. The WWE Network will be available on a variety of digital platforms including PCs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and app stores, while featuring all 12 annual pay-per-view events, original shows and series, and access to all the classic matches from years past. If this wasn’t already a wrestling fan’s dream, first consider that a single PPV event such as WrestleMania is normally $59.95. Now, consider that the WWE is offering this full package of content PLUS all 12 PPV events to fans for $9.99 a month with a six month commitment.

Aside from saving its loyal fan base boat-loads of money, WWE Network is also providing a seemingly endless supply of content to consume.  In an age where content is king and “binge watching” TV shows is considered the norm, WWE Network is giving its fans the option to do just that. Upon its launch, over 1500 hours of content will be readily available, ranging from PG to uncensored matches, all in high-definition. As an added bonus, WWE Network promises that the majority of the programming will be commercial free, with minimal sponsorships and advertisements. On top of all of this, the WWE will still air its content on traditional cable channels, while continuing to offer special matches in a PPV format.

Really, this is a win-win situation for the WWE. They are fully embracing the digital space, yet still not putting all its eggs into one basket. Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson notes that wrestling fans watch five times as much digital video than non-fans, and that the WWE YouTube channel has nearly 1 billion views. Why wouldn’t those numbers translate to the WWE Network where all the company’s content will be in one place? Furthermore, casual wrestling fans who may just be flipping through the channels, can still enjoy wrestling on basic cable.

The real question is whether any of the four major sports will follow this Netflix model and utilize the growing, digital landscape. The UFC recently launched its “Fight Pass” digital subscription, but that pales in comparison to WWE Network. The true remaining players are the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, but only time will tell if they make a move. In the meantime, Chairman and CEO of the WWE, Vince McMahon, can walk with his head held high, knowing he has pioneered the blueprint for brands to launch their own digital network. 

If you were a wrestling fan, would you subscribe to the WWE Network? Is this the beginning of the end for pay-per-view? Are there any other sports that would benefit from a digital subscription network?

I look forward to your feedback and welcome any and all comments. If you like what you’ve read, be social and share. 

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