Pruett's Blog: Six months with the WWE Network - The good, the bad, the confounding, and the utterly infuriating
By Will Pruett
On August 24, the first batch of WWE Network subscriptions under first the truly non-existent, but still mentioned "six month commitment" expired (for those who didn't take the free preview week). For many, this will lead to some reflection, as they will look at the $9.99 they spend every month and contemplate the decent bottle of craft beer it could be buying them (Drink local, my friends). Over the next few weeks, other subscriptions will expire. In the next six weeks, everyone who signed up for WrestleMania will have to decide if the normally boring/rage-inducing (especially last year) line up of Autumn "special events" is for them. I'm here to help out.
- Holy excrement! Have you seen the video library? It's massive! Every pay-per-view from WWE, NWA/WCW, and ECW! There are a crap-ton of three to five hour wrestling shows just waiting to be watched! How can this not be great? On top of those shows, every Raw from January 1993 to July 1995 is up for the watching. Every Saturday Night's Main event! Every Clash of the Champions! There are a lot of shows here basically, and that's pretty cool.
- If you were watching every pay-per-view, you were paying WWE a ton of money for a full slate of uneven shows. Quality could not be guaranteed, but spending $60 on a show was. These were dark times. When I pushed "order" on my remote, I was always filled with regret. I could buy two really good whiskey barrel aged beers from a favorite local brewery and age them for years with that $60! Sure, I'd get nothing now, but in two years, I'd have the pleasure of drinking cuss-wording amazing beer with over 15% ABV! Wait... I was talking about price. Yeah. WWE Network's price rules.
- The special documentaries WWE Network has produced have all be top notch. The "Journey" pieces on Daniel Bryan and the former members of The Shield were great mixes of the kayfabe world WWE exists in and the real life journeys of the talent. The Ultimate Warrior's very sad documentary on the Network was a notch above almost anything WWE has ever produced. It was downright awe inspiring.
- The opportunities for experimentation in television format the Network allows WWE are great. I love hearing Renee Young on commentary and, while she needs some time to grow into the role, feel she could be one of the best play-by-play voices in the world. I love seeing WWE try new things, even with mixed results (hello pre-shows). They have the chance to throw something up on the live stream and see if it will succeed or fail. It's pretty cool.
The Not So Good, Bad, Ugly, Frustrating, and all the other negative stuff:
- As good and as deep as the library is, it's amazing how little they actually have up for viewers to enjoy. Want to watch a couple episodes of Raw leading into one of the hundreds of pay-per-views up for your enjoyment? Too bad. Want to see some classic WCW Monday Nitro? You're going to have to look for it on YouTube. Want to enjoy World Class in order and experience the stories as they originally progressed? I've got some bad news for you (Get well soon, Wade). WWE has done the ultimate half-assed job with the library. Yes, I get to watch any pay-per-view, but aside from pre-match highlight packages, I don't get to experience stories. I watch wrestling for the combination of athleticism and story. I'm not a fan of one of these things missing.
Is there any good reason why, after six months, the entire libraries of Raw, Smackdown, WCW Nitro, WCW Saturday Night, NXT, WWF Superstars, Thunder, and every other show currently digitized in their system aren't readily available to me at the press of a button? They aren't going to drive subscriptions by withholding content. They're going to lose current subscribers who want to relive the era when they became a fan. This is different for everyone. For some people, it was one moment on Nitro that hooked them of a lifetime. Why deprive them of experiencing it again?
- The functionality of the Network is exceptionally uneven. On my computer, I can watch shows with chapters and it will remember where I left off. If I want to watch a show on my iPad, I have to find it, then hunt for the exact match/moment I want. The same goes for my iPhone and AppleTV. The PS3 will allow me to pick up where I left off, but it won't show me my recently watched shows. The XBox can hardly handle playing a stream for some reason. The Roku apparently has the best of every possible world. Should we all feel like WWE is neglecting us?
It isn't just the uneven functionality. It's the lack of it. Where is my viewing history? Netflix knows what shows I've been watching and it allows me to grab them from one easy screen. Netflix also remembers where I stopped watching a show at home and allows me to pick up from that very spot while on my lunch break on my phone. Why hasn't WWE Network built this kind of functionality in? Heck, people may be less inclined to share passwords if it meant their friend would ruin their viewing history and cause them to lose their place while binge viewing Total Divas!
- In the time the WWE Network has existed, they have released only two documentaries: Daniel Bryan and The Shield's respective journeys to things. These are two documentaries in six months? Would one a month kill the concept? Would it hurt them to produce more original content about the top stars of today? I can watch silly countdown shows and relive the past with WrestleMania Rewind, but I am unable to watch the stars of today get ready for a big match. This is ridiculous. WWE knows how to produce these and do so well. Where is the content about the current stars?
- Why does WWE produce so many exclusive videos for WWE.com, but not for their Network? Want to see Triple H's weekly sit down with Michael Cole? You have to go to the website. It makes no sense. I'm paying for a Network. Let me have the content.
My personal verdict:
Look I love WWE Network, as I said before. It's perfect for cheap pay-per-views and it allows us all to relive certain points of the past and recall our childlike wonder. It's a good thing. As my subscription expires, I will be waiting to renew it though. As much as I like NXT, I don't see a reason to renew the Network just for NXT on a weekly basis. I'll be back on the Network, at least by Night of Champions, but I'm hoping WWE does something to compel me to return to it sooner.
It's not a budget issue. It is a programming issue. WWE is trying to treat their massive new video on demand platform like its a TV station. It isn't. There's no reason to wait a week to see another episode of a series WWE made three years ago. There's no reason to not be able to watch everything. Heck, I want to enjoy Prime Time Wrestling. Why can't I?
WWE has cut back the budget on new content for the Network, but their entire business depends on it. I'm utterly confused by many of the approaches they are taking. I like WWE Network, but truly hope WWE can make it something special. They're halfway there. In the end, I suggest getting that bottle of delicious craft beer and a WWE Network subscription. Treat yourself.
Just make sure to drink locally, everyone. It's important.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling. Why? Because it's fun. You can follow him on the Twitter for much shorter pieces of wrestling writing @itswilltime.
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