I am a professional wrestling fan. Let that sink in for a second. OK, now that we have gotten that inconvenient bit of truth out of the way we can move on.
Yesterday, the WWE (aka the only wrestling company that still matters in the US) went live with their WWE Network product. It promised a live 24/7 stream of curated content as you would see on a TV channel and a “massive” library of content (more on this later) that is accessible on demand. All for the low, low price of $9.99/month.
Now, before you think that I don’t like the product, I’ll just come out and say it: I like the product. It is good value for the money as far as I am concerned.
However, there are some issues and that is what I wanted to speak to.
First, the sign up process is the most counter intuitive process I have ever seen on any website. You sign up for the WWE site either by creating an account with WWE or by using an authentication gateway like Facebook, Google or Yahoo. Then you get an error saying that media is not found. You might be asking yourself: “What? But I was never prompted to put in payment information or anything.” That is true, in order to sign up for the WWE Network you need to go to the Shop section of the WWE site and sign up. Once you figure this out, the rest really is very easy. However, that missing auto-redirect to the page where you pay for the subscription if very jarring and I hope that they address this issue as soon as possible.
The next issue that I had with the site is the way in which they handle the streaming. You get an almost instant bumper telling you the rating of the show you are about to watch, but then the show will generally take quite a good bit of time to start streaming. This wouldn’t be a problem if they just had a little indicator telling you what is going on, but the content provider kind of whiffed on this and forgot to add a percentage meter telling you how much of the buffering needed has occured. Again, this is a detail, but it is something that the likes of Netflix and Amazon have figured out some time ago. The other issue with buffering is that if it needs to buffer mid stream you get no indicator of what is going on, just a frozen image. This is a detail, but for a company which puts out such well produced programming on a weekly basis, it really isn’t putting their best foot forward.
Another issue is the availability of the current TV shows. I don’t have cable. I have no interest in paying for cable. The WWE Network does not include live streams of RAW or Smackdown. They include the Pre and Post shows, but if you want to see RAW or Smackdown live you will need cable and you will need to tune in to USA and SyFy respectively. This isn’t a big deal for me as I understand that the WWE has a licensing deal with each of those networks, but it is still a little jarring to watch the RAW Pre-show and then have it snap over to some other content other than RAW. Maybe after the licensing deals run out, these two pieces of programming could be optioned for WWE Network distribution as well as cable distribution.
Finally, I have two issues with their video on demand library:
First, there is a very noticeable absence of Monday Night Nitro and Thursday Night Thunder. Whereas I would not expect them to have all of the Saturday Night Main Event or WCCW television content live on day 1, the absence of WCW television leads me to a question: Is there a licensing problem with Turner television? Does the WWE have the licensing rights to Nitro, Thunder and the rest of the WCW television content? If not, then that would be a big letdown for me personally. Weirdly enough, there’s a ton of ECW content on the WWE Network (which I could frankly take or leave since it relies a little too heavily on gratuitous sexuality and violence to drive the storytelling).
Second, I want a timeline view. What I mean is that I want a chronological listing of all main line content from a wrestling continuity. For example, I could click on WWE and watch, in order, all of the content that made up 1999 for example, going from RAW to Smackdown to PPV events and so on. I understand that every single episode of RAW and Smackdown aren’t going to be available on day like the PPV events are, but as they do become available they can just kind of drop into the timeline. The beauty of pro wrestling is that the silly narrative (and let’s not kid ourselves, grown men and women fighting over shiny belts is silly no matter how you look at it), is that the narrative flows organically from show to show and forms a greater tapestry of heroes, villains, vixens and clowns. If I have to hunt for each episode and figure out what order they go in, that is just inconvenient.
On the positive side, once you do get signed up for the site, you do get a huge amount of content, and it is nostalgia galore. The first thing that was on the live stream when I signed up last night was Andre the Giant vs Big John Studd slam match from Wrestlemania I. And as goofy and clumsy as that match seems when compared to current content (see: Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan and Cesaro if you want to see what a modern wrestler can do), I still had fun turning off my brain and watching Andre throwing money to the crowd right before Heenan stole the bag of money and ran away like the weasel character that he played so well for so long.
If you’re on the fence about whether the WWE Network is worth it or not, let me break it down for you. If you sign up, then you do get a free week to try it (and I think you can cancel before the week is out and not pay anything). But if you go over the week, you’re locked in for six months (or about the price of 1 PPV event). I think the price point is excellent, but that is a decision that each of you much make for yourselves.