One day after Wrestlemania XXX, the WWE sent out a press release touting the success of their own WWE Network, a $9.99 a month digital app on track to net one million subscribers by the end of 2014. The focus of the celebratory announcement hinged on that fact that the app "is well on its way to reaching its goal of 1 million subscribers by the end of 2014 just 42 days after launching in the U.S., making it the fastest-growing digital subscription service."
Yet, 667,000+ current subscribers are lower than initial estimates, which had the WWE “breaking even” on the WWE Network at one million subscribers. As What Culture points out, the main issue is that the WWE Network debuted before their biggest pay-per-view event, Wrestlemania, with the hope that the attractive $9.99 price tag (which includes every pay-per-view at no extra cost) was incentive enough for people to buy into the program—a dope app, with tons of potential, but a glorified WWE on-demand app nonetheless. What will get the network over the hump? Though potential of the WWE Network possesses is unlimited, no matter how you slice it, if the company wants to surpass the one million subscriber mark sooner than Dec. 31, 2014, it has to engage with fans better than the app does with the current programming.
Perfect example: the collective professional wrestling world is currently mourning the loss of one of the biggest icons the world of sports entertainment has ever had, the Ultimate Warrior, who passed away suddenly three days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (and giving a cryptic, downright eerie promo on the post-Wrestlemania Monday Night Raw). Now any sports-related website worth its weight in bandwidth has pulled together some kind of tribute, which isn’t hard to do. It is a simple equation of dope writer plus a collection of videos found on YouTube. Paying homage has never been so easy. Now, you’d expect that the WWE Network, which is not only run by the same promotional vehicle that not only made the Ultimate Warrior a star, but also saw him help elevate the federation at the time due to his stardom, would drum up something, right? Word came Wednesday afternoon that a tribute was set to air at 8 p.m., featuring the Warrior’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech, the April 7 Raw appearance, and his legendary bout with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI aired in its entirety. It never came. What’d we get instead? Just a small video package and a full airing of Wrestlemania VI.
The stock price will only continue to plummet if they don’t live up to their potential. Fans deserve more.
We’re not dumb; we know that the Ultimate Warrior: Ultimate Collection DVD is now available, and we’re not expecting them to show the entire 540-minute collection front to back on the Network. But a team of WWE Network assistants in Stamford, CT could certainly have spent their day splicing together select matches (and promo interviews!) together for a condensed, 60-to-90 minute package as a tribute on the WWE Network. It could’ve included the HOF speech, his Raw segment, and still had Hogan/Warrior at Wrestlemania VI. It could have instilled much needed faith in fans, made them realize that the Network understands and celebrates a true love of wrestling and its associated characters.
These missed opportunities, ones that could highlight what the “WWE Network” stands for, that casts doubts on the WWE's potential to reach the goal of 1 million subscribers. A situation like this makes me wonder what happens when a pro wrestler who isn’t the subject of a new DVD or product will be handled.
The WWE Network was only announced in January, and didn’t debut until February 24. It is still in infant stages. But when you couple that with the fact that a) the WWE had already half-assed its on-demand channel for almost 10 years (before closing it down in January) and b) that the WWE been planning for this Network since 2011, it’s hard to understand how the organization wouldn’t have a plan in place to react to major news with top-shelf content. In no way are we suggesting that they preemptively make two-hour tribute shows for the inevitable death of their superstars, but if you’re spending all of this time digitizing your massive video library, how is there no easy way to pull select bits from said library for times like this, where someone who’s made an impact on sports entertainment is suddenly taken from us?
Hopefully this is a lesson the WWE can learn from. Because while they’re on an island by themselves, and no one has the library they do, no one is going to tune in if they mismanage and undermine their worth. The stock price will only continue to plummet if they don’t live up to their potential. Fans deserve more.