It’s been a long road for World Wrestling Entertainment to launch its own network. As early as September 2011, the WWE was teasing the network to its fans. Once the calendar flipped from 2011 to 2012, WWE was ready to announce that its own network would launch by year’s end. 2012 came and went, with nary a word spoken about the network. Fans were left to wonder if the network would go the way of GTV and vanish from thought. After all, no one even knew what the WWE was trying to do with its own network. Was it to be a premium cable channel? An on-demand network? What kind of content would fill the network? Did anyone even really want a channel dedicated to wrestling 24/7?
WWE was quiet until late in 2013 when it came to the subject of its seemingly dead-on-arrival network. And then, like a perfectly executed heal turn, the network was announced to great fanfare. The long hiatus was put to good use by WWE as nearly every question that could be asked was answered immediately. The WWE Network would be an on-demand internet channel in the same style as Netflix or Hulu. For ten dollars a month, fans would receive access to the network and their ten dollars would go a long way: access to new series, access to every WWF/WWE/WCW/ECW pay-per view, on-demand episodes of Raw, Smackdown, Nitro, Hardcore TV, etc. And the kicker, every new WWE pay-per view was included live. That meant that individuals who subscribed in April would get all of the historical content plus Wrestlemania XXX for just ten bucks. The catch? Well, the only catch was the announcement that a subscription was a six month commitment making the entry level price sixty bucks for Network access. As far as catches go, this is a perfectly reasonable one otherwise fans would be constantly signing up and canceling their subscriptions just for ten dollar pay-per views (for those unaware, a WWE PPV usually runs fifty to sixty dollars, with Wrestlemania sometimes going higher).
This past Monday, the WWE Network was officially launched. The Network is available on several platforms including PC, Mac, iPod/iPad, smart phones, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360, Roku, and probably some I’m forgetting. The only notable exclusions right now are Smart TVs (other than Samsung), Nintendo devices, and Xbox One. Some Smart TVs will receive support this summer, as well as Xbox One, though no word on the Wii U. Regardless, most households have at least one of those things and should be able to access the WWE Network provided they have a broadband connection. The first week is free on laptop and desktop devices, but I was intrigued enough to pay the sixty bucks for the six month commitment. After one week, how do I feel about my purchase?
Initially, a little wary. Because of the hype, and because of the free access, the servers were absolutely flooded when the Network launched on the 24th of February. I didn’t have any problems signing up for it (unlike many folks), but when it came time to watch it quickly became obvious that the Network could not meet the demands of wrestling fans. I first tried watching Wrestlemania XIV on my PS3. My PS3 is on a wired connection (unlike my PS4, plus I have a remote for the PS3) so it seemed like the best way to view the network. The PPV started with no problems and I was having a pretty damn good time with it. The picture, up-converted since it wasn’t originally aired in HD, was sharp. Best of all, the old WWF logo wasn’t blurred out, nor were Stone Cold Steve Austin’s one-finger salutes. I was quite impressed and genuinely surprised at how well the experience was going, until I tried to fast-forward. That’s when everything went to Hell and the PPV endlessly went into a buffering loop until eventually the PPV quit and I was back at the main menu. Repeated attempts to re-launch the event stalled, and I eventually gave up.
Night two went even worse. It started off the same, but when trying to launch an event it would only last a few minutes before crapping out. I tried the Network on my laptop over Wi-fi, just for the Hell of it, and had the same results. Night three was more of the same as well, and it wasn’t until Thursday that I finally was able to view an entire PPV event. By then, the interface had been improved slightly by adding chapters to each event, making navigating to a favorite match a lot easier. And ever since then, everything has been running smooth as silk.
As you may have guessed, I’ve been practically glued to my couch all weekend basking in wrestling nostalgia. I’ve watched several events at this point, mostly reliving the glory of the Attitude era, but also pausing for some WCW and ECW events. I made it a point to check out some of the more controversial items to see how WWE handled them, below:
Over the Edge 1999 – this is the event made famous for tragic reasons as Owen Hart fell from the rafters and perished in the ring. The camera did not catch the accident live, but the original broadcast obviously couldn’t ignore it. WWF chose to continue with the show, but it has never been aired since or released to home video. The WWE Network version contains a tribute to Owen at the beginning, and all mention of the accident has been cut from the program. It’s pretty eerie watching the matches that took place after it, as it’s easy to see the concern and dread on some of the wrestlers faces.
Chris Benoit – Benoit is famous for pretty horrific reasons, and ever since he murdered his wife and son in 2007 he has not been mentioned or shown in video by the WWE. All events that he took place in are here on the Network, uncut. I heard there was to be a disclaimer before events containing him, but when I watched Wrestlemania XX and ECW One Night Stand there was none. I though perhaps they would cut some of the praise aimed at Benoit from the announcers or promos, but no alterations appear to have been made. Benoit and Eddie Guerrero’s past match celebration at the end of Wrestlemania XX is even still intact.
Other censorship – WWE promised there would be no censorship, but there are edits made to some programs. Brief nudity, such as was the case at Fully Loaded ’98, has been blurred. Some licensed music tracks have been removed as well, and oddly, some wrestlers have their entrance music changed. I watched a match between Chris Jericho and Fake Goldberg which took place at WCW Fall Brawl and Jericho’s music had been replaced with his WWF Y2J theme.
Currently, there are no episodes of Nitro on the network and the advertised Monday Night Wars program has not been added yet either. One surprising inclusion so far has been DVD only programs. Last night I enjoyed watching Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on The Most Popular Superstar of All Time, the documentary released on home video in 2011. Either WWE is pulling out all the stops early, or this is a sign that other wrestler documentaries will be added that were previously only available on DVD/Blu Ray. Other original programs, such as Legends House, have yet to be added but I don’t know if anyone is really looking forward to that one…
The real test for the WWE Network is coming: Wrestlemania XXX. Will the servers be able to handle it? I’m also curious about their plans for the future, as right now all of the press releases for the Network make it a point to say 12 pay-per view events are included. Does that mean the pay structure will change by this time next year for pay-per view events? Questions aside, right now I would call the WWE Network a success. It’s quite possible that after six months I’ll have had my fill, as I’m not huge into the current product, but maybe I’ll be convinced to keep it. If you’re a long-time fan though, or someone who’s into the current product, this is for you!