WWE promises to put a chokehold on entertainment with streaming TV network

wwe network stone cold
Photo: Philip Michaels

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LAS VEGAS—The WWE would like it very much if you smelled what the wrestling and entertainment conglomerate was cooking—specifically a streaming video channel it plans to launch next month.

WWE Network promises round-the-clock programming, including scripted shows as well as on-demand video that calls upon decades worth of wrestling videos, highlights, and pay-per-view events. More significantly, the WWE’s 12 yearly pay-per-view events will be available to WWE Network subscribers.

“This is one of the most important days in WWE’s storied history,” said emcee Michael Cole, clearly overlooking that time Shawn Michaels superkicked Marty Janetty.

Still, snicker at the WWE at your own peril, as your correspondent just has and may continue to do throughout the article, but this is one company that clearly understands how to employ technology to extend its reach.

The wrestling outfit jumped on the Web back when other mainstream entertainment outlets were content with a token online presence. In recent years, it’s embraced social media and later second-screen technology to further connect with its fanbase. The WWE’s technological track record suggests that it will throw the full force of its Andre The Giant-sized heft behind a 24/7 streaming video service.

“We think [the WWE is] once again ahead of their time,” said Bob Bowman, president and CEO of MLB Advanced Media, which is handling distribution of the nascent channel.

WWE everywhere

WWE Network will be available via Web browser as well as through the company’s iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire apps; you’ll also be able to access the network from Roku devices, Sony PlayStation 3 and 4 consoles, and the Xbox 360. WWE plans to add support for the Xbox One and certain models of Smart TVs later this summer. Buy a subscription through one of these avenues, and you’ll be able to access WWE network through any other platform.

Access to pay-per-view programming may be WWE’s biggest draw to its existing fanbase. Buying each of the WWE’s dozen events per year would run you $675; the $9.95-a-month subscription to WWE Network cuts that outlay by around 82 percent.

WWE is promising original programming as well, including countdown shows for its weekly Raw and Smackdown cable programs and WWE NXT, the company’s development program for up-and-coming wrestlers. But much of the WWE Network’s planned programming plays the nostalgia card—from Legends House, in which the likes of Roddy Piper, Hillbilly Jim, and other wrestlers from yesteryear are forced to live under the same roof in a reality-style program that promises to either be a train wreck or a Nobel Prize recipient, to access to the company’s archive of past wrestling matches and pay-per-view events.

Indeed, Wednesday night’s launch event in Las Vegas seemed like it was tailor-made for wrestling fans who cut their teeth either in the Rock ’n Wrestling era of the mid-1980s or the WWE Attitude era of the late ’90s. Apart from John Cena, most of the WWE superstars featured at the WWE Network launch event—including Stone Cold Steve Austin, HHH, and the aforementioned Shawn Michaels—enjoyed their heyday more than a decade ago.

wwe degeneration x Photo: Philip Michaels

From right to left, Shawn Michaels, Stephanie McMahon, and HHH conjure up images of the WWE from a decade ago to promote the launch of the WWE Network.

Whether you’re an old-school fan or one who hears the words “Hulk Hogan” and wonders why I’ve butchered the name of one of the Avengers, the WWE Network promises to sport features that characterize the company’s forward-looking attitude toward tech. A Watch From the Beginning Button will let you start anew with any program currently airing on the network, says Perkins Miller, WWE’s executive vice president of digital media. The network will also offer a Remind Me button that will text you when a program you care to watch is going to start, as well as a Second-Screen Experience button that gives you access to tweets, footage, and other secondary info tied to whatever program you’re watching.

You won’t have to wait long to see if WWE Network can be the king of the ring. The service launches February 24, right as that night’s WWE Raw broadcast comes to an end. And WWE boasts a marquee draw to lure new subscribers: the 30th installment of the company’s WrestleMania flagship event will be the first pay-per-view available to WWE Network subscribers.

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