WWE Network: It’s Best for Business
On Monday February 24 at 9am, television changed forever. No, cable prices didn’t take a nose dive, and no, Breaking Bad isn’t coming back for a sixth season, and yes, the Kardashians still have a show. In actuality, nothing about television changed at all, that is unless you are a wrestling fan. The WWE Network launched online exclusively last week following several years of negotiating and wheeling and dealing with various cable and satellite providers and television networks.
I have spent the better part of my last week and then some dedicating myself to watching as much content on the WWE Network as possible, from various pay-per-views from the biggest companies of yester-year, to live broadcasts of current in-ring shows and original content. Other than having to go to work, I haven’t seem much of the outside world because of this, and I’m perfectly okay with that, though I’ve only just begun to scratch surface of what the WWE Network has to offer in terms of content. Below you will find out just what exactly the WWE Network is, its troubled launch and revival, my week+ experience with it, and what improvements I’d like to see come in the near future. Now barring any more delays, I present to you the WWE Network.
What is the WWE Network
In simple terms, the WWE Network is the Netflix of professional wrestling. Throughout the decades, World Wrestling Entertainment has amassed a massive video archive of professional wrestling from various, now defunct, wrestling promotions. On top of its own library as both the WWE and WWF (World Wrestling Federation), the WWE Network includes video footage from World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and American Wrestling Association (AWA). Every pay-per-view from the WWE, WCW, and ECW up through the 2014 Royal Rumble is available for instant streaming, unedited and uncensored. The only exception to this is the 1999 Over the Edge event where Owen Hart died in a horrific accident during his entrance to the ring. The event itself is available to watch, but everything relating to Owen Hart has been edited out and if you had no idea about the accident, you wouldn’t even notice that something was missing.
The WWE Network also features current in-ring shows as well as several original shows exclusive to the network. In-ring shows including NXT, Main Event, and Superstars are available in their entirety live and/or on demand they day after they air on television. Pre and post shows for Raw and Smackdown also air live on the Network before and after their respective shows. However, current episodes of Raw and Smackdown are not available immediately after they air on television. This is most likely due to current television deals that are in place and things could change once those deals expire and WWE negotiates new ones, but for now there will be at least a one month delay between Raw and Smackdown airing on television and then being available for viewing on the WWE Network. The most recent episodes of Raw and Smackdown available on the Network are from the week leading into the Royal Rumble in January.
As of this moment, there are currently 3 original programs airing exclusive on the WWE Network; WrestleMania Rewind, WWE Countdown, and WWE Beyond the Ring. Additional original programming that will debut later this year include The Monday Night War and WWE Legend’s House, although a set date has not been given as to when these shows will begin airing. Unlike Netflix, original programming is not available all at once. Each show will air a live new episode once a week with each episode becoming available for instant streaming the moment after they air.
Finally, beginning on April 6, 2014 with WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans, every Pay-Per-View event will air live on the WWE Network at no additional cost to subscribers.
Failure to Launch
The brain child of Vince McMahon, the WWE Network was originally announced back in September of 2011 and was planned to launch on April 1, 2012, the same day as Wrestlemania 28. In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 28, the WWE began playing ads for the Network during episodes of Raw and Smackdown and even had a countdown timer running on their website, WWE.com. The original plan was for the WWE Network to be a cable channel dedicated to airing video footage from the WWE’s archives and to host original programming as well.
But as the target date of April 1 got closer and closer, WWE had yet to find a cable or satellite-TV provider that would carry the network. By early March the countdown timer had been removed from WWE’s website and ads for the network stopped airing during televised shows. On April 1, WrestleMania 28 went off without a hitch, but the WWE Network was nowhere to be found.
Despite the failed initial launch, Vince McMahon and co. weren’t giving up on the idea of the WWE Network. On the first Raw on 2014, which was called Old School Raw, a teaser video was played featuring the WWE Network logo and that an announcement would be made regarding the WWE on January 8, the date of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). On January 8, 2014 at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Vince McMahon announced the launch of the WWE Network.
The new WWE Network was to be an online service akin to Netfilx and HuluPlus that would be available on computers, iPhone,Android and Kindle Fire devices, and through various streaming devices such as Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Roku, and Apple TV. A subscription to the Network would include full pay-per-view video libraries from WWE, WCW, and ECW, in-ring shows, original content, and all 12 live pay-per-view events beginning with WrestleMania XXX for just $9.99 a month. On February 24, the WWE Network went live.
My Buggy First Day
To sweeten the pot even more, the WWE has allowed for people to sign up for a one week trial for the WWE Network that can be cancelled immediately afterwords and doesn’t lock users into the 6 month commitment unless they choose to keep the Network past the trial period. I gladly took WWE up on this offer, and I have gladly let my trial period carry over into a full 6 month subscription.
On February 24 at 9am I sat in front of my laptop, while my PS3 downloaded the WWE App, to witness the launch of the WWE Network. It launched with a video of Vince McMahon introducing the Network and proclaiming that “Today is a great day to be a WWE fan.” Since that day, I have been glued to the WWE Network.
The amount of content available is astounding and a bit overwhelming at first. I immediately dove into the Network’s pay-per-view library, and they weren’t kidding when they said that every pay-per-view from WWE, WCW, and ECW would be available to watch anytime, anywhere. The question quickly went from what is there to watch to what do I want to watch, so I picked the best of best to start, WrestleMania 17.
It didn’t take long though for launch day bugs to appear. As I tried to load up WrestleMania 17, numerous times I was told the video content was unavailable or the app itself froze with the spinning loading wheel going for a good 5 minutes. I tried switching over to what was airing live at the time, WrestleMania Rewind, but that wouldn’t load either. Every video I tried had problems loading on day one on both my laptop and PS3. Frustrating, yes, but I knew this was day one and that things like this always happen with online services on the first day. I had to go to work, so I closed out of the Network and figured I’d try it again when I got home later in the evening.
This time I tried loading up the WCW pay-per-view Halloween Havoc 1998 on my PS3, and it worked, for a little bit. I got about 15 minutes of smooth sailing into the pay-per-view and then came the buffering. Every one or two minutes the video would stop for anywhere between 5 seconds to almost a whole minute to buffer. This repeated for a bit until I quit out of the app and launched it again. This time nothing would load, not the live stream, not Halloween Havoc, nothing. I gave up for the night, defeated by the day one bugs, but not deterred.
The Rest of My Week+
In the morning of the second day, I was still having the same issues as I did the night before with videos playing for about 10-15 minutes and then nonstop buffering after, but the live stream was fully functional even after I closed a buffering video. It was clear WWE knew of the problems and was doing everything they could to fix them. I was content for the time being with the live stream on my PS3 so I let that run in the background while I got myself ready for my day.
By the third day, my buffering issues were almost nonexistent. I was able to load up several events on my PS3, ECW’s One Night Stand 2005, and WrestleMania 17 (finally) with only slight instances of buffering. The live stream worked perfectly and everything just seemed to run smoother than it had the previous two days. All was soon right with the WWE Network as my buffering issues became extinct by the end of the week on my PS3 and laptop. Note: I wasn’t able to watch the NXT Arrival event live due to being at work during the event. I heard of some people having issues during the live stream but I did not experience any when watching the replay live later that night.
On the last day of my free trial, I figured I’d give the WWE Network a shot on my Android phone (Sony Xperia TL). My work’s wifi was a bit spotty, I didn’t want to use up all of my 4G LTE data in just a few hours, but the video quality was still decent on wifi and the few times I did switch over to 4G I was able to stream in full 720p.
Though things got off to a rough start at the beginning, all problems I had disappeared within the first 3 days and I have been able to enjoy the WWE Network on all my devices (laptop, PS3, smartphone) without any problems. I was aware that Xbox 360 users were having issues trying to login into the app itself for this past week. WWE surprisingly sent out an email addressing the matter, but I’m also aware that those problems have apparently been fixed, again thanks to another email from WWE.
Improvements To Make
Though my problems are gone, and for those who have an Xbox 360 please feel free to comment and let me know if your problems are gone as well, there’s still some improvements I’d like to see made to the WWE Network in terms of video playback, content, and appearance.
Picking up where you left off – As of right now, when you pause a video and close out of the Network, on all devices, you cannot pick up where you left off on that video. Netflix and HuluPlus have this enabled across all devices and you can even pause on one device and continue on another. This is my biggest gripe, and I’m positive it is one that WWE will seek to fix quickly.
- Lack of Raw and Smackdown – As I stated earlier, both Raw and Smackdown won’t be available live on the Network as they air and won’t be available on demand on the Network for nearly a month afterwords. The only way right now to watch Raw and Smackdown on demand is through HuluPlus, a separate $7.99/month subscription. This is obviously because of current TV deals in place so hopefully the WWE can work out an agreement that allows for Raw and Smackdown to at least be available on demand the day after on the Network once their current TV deals end.Lack of older in-ring shows – There are some older episodes of Raw and Smackdown available, but not all of them. Again this may have to do with current TV deals, but it’s kind of disappointing having the 1st episode of Smackdown available from back in 1999 and the next one after from 2010. I’d also like to see old Monday Night Nitro, Thunder, and Sunday Night Heat episodes added as well as an other in-ring shows that no longer air.
- Lack of older in-ring shows – There are some older episodes of Raw and Smackdown available, but not all of them. Again this may have to do with current TV deals, but it’s kind of disappointing having the 1st episode of Smackdown available from back in 1999 and the next one after from 2010. I’d also like to see old Monday Night Nitro, Thunder, and Sunday Night Heat episodes added as well as an other in-ring shows that no longer air.
- Improved search function – On my laptop and smartphone, I can search through pay-per-view events by year. For example, if I want to see a list of PPVs from 2001, all I need to do is click the drop-down box titled “Year,” click “2001,” and poof a listing of those PPVs appears on screen. That’s no the case on PS3. Instead you get a side scrolling list of the PPVs and only by clicking on an event can you then pick the year. Since my PS3 is my primary viewing platform for the WWE Network, this is a bit of a headache when trying to follow all the PPVs from a single year.
Yes, Yes, Yes
The WWE Network is nearly everything die hard wrestling fans could’ve asked for. Thousands upon thousands of hours of content from the vintage days of wrestling, through the attitude era, and into today are available to watch instantly at our fingertips. Whether you’re a fan of the current product or not, if you grew up on wrestling as a kid or even have kids of your own now that enjoy it, the WWE Network has something for everyone to watch and enjoy. At $9.99/month for a 6 month commitment, it’s nearly impossible to say no given the wealth of content that’s available now and coming soon.
Vince McMahon and company have claimed that the WWE Network will change television forever, and while that may be hyperbole, some truth lies in it. Direct-TV will no longer carry the pay-per-view events because of the Network, shows like NXT, Main Event, and Superstars that used to only be available on obscure television channels or only on HuluPlus the day after they aired now have a shared home. It’s a huge step in the world of sports and entertainment and if it proves to be successful, the WWE Network, along with Netflix, HuluPlus, and Amazon, can help to usher in an age of sans-cable television.