The Mother Brain Files: The $9.99 Commitment
By Mother Brain
I’m home relaxing after a rough past week and with nothing much else to do, I watch Monday Night Raw. It was the 8/4/14 show. The show begins like it has almost every week with the heel Authority coming to ringside to run down all the babyfaces in WWE. There was one major difference, however. Triple H is selling nearly every money match for the upcoming Summerslam event and how you can watch it on the WWE Network for $9.99 a month (with a six month commitment). He keeps repeating 9.99 until the fans start chanting it over and over. Just when I thought that was the only time WWE would go overkill hyping their new network, they would repeatedly do this 41 times in the evening between commentator plugs, Twitter feeds, commercials, and even JBL holding up a handwritten 9.99 on a piece of paper. This was supposed to be a filler Raw before the go home show. Instead, it was treated as ‘Plugamania.’
I’ve been told by my wrestling friends that the WWE Network is a good investment. Since its initial launch earlier this year, the network has been marketed as “Netflix, but better”. The hook was more than just access to classic shows, events, and original programing. It was the ability to watch every PPV a month without hashing out $60 per show; it was access to the full library of WWE, WCW, and ECW PPVs ever; pre-shows and post-shows for Raw and Smackdown; and the best part is the preservation of the pre-PG content which includes footage of Chris Benoit. Despite some censoring and music removals, WWE Network was every fan’s dream. Yet, I still cannot not bring myself to subscribe.
I’m an old school wrestling fan since 1994 who sought out old tapes when video stores were in existence. My interest in wrestling has changed in twenty years. While I still buy the occasional documentary DVD of my heroes from the past, I just find myself too busy to watch them on repeated viewings. I can have a sense of nostalgia revisiting wrestling’s past with the network, but I can also get easily bored and frustrated when comparing today’s product with back then.
This leads me to the next problem which is the current WWE product. Every blog I’ve written about WWE’s issues could be taken as typical IWC junk. I’m very well aware of those opinions. Now here’s a company with a network trying to sell people on the value of live streaming PPVs and additional content you can’t get on Raw and Smackdown. Since Wrestlemania 30, there has not been one solid PPV (aka special event) that has made the network worth subscribing. Easy to blame it on the lack of depth in the roster due to the losses of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and The Rock. The problem most people complain about is that the PPVs are now being treated as extended episodes of Raw. Case in point is how Daniel Bryan defeated Kane at Extreme Rules only for Kane to rise up and do his thing with the ring on fire to establish a continuation of the feud. Then the next PPV saw the company continue to drag out the storyline in which Bryan was under threat of having the title stripped from him by the Authority due to his neck injury. Raw is already enough of a struggle to get through three hours every Monday. Now do we have to suffer through more mediocre PPVs for three hours the night before?
Then there’s the harm in what the network does to the talent financially. By cutting into PPV revenue, the superstars make less money in bonuses than in past years. There hasn’t been a revolt of any kind with exception of CM Punk walking out, but these guys are clearly frustrated. The more they’re told by management to work more stiff while creating intenser matches, the more they’re getting injured. When you have Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella closing out Raw, TWO WEEKS IN A ROW, you know they’re not doing enough to push new talent in a lacking roster.
Wall Street had their say too. When the initial subscription numbers came in at less than expected projections, Vince McMahon took a serious financial hit and it hasn’t gotten much better since then. With numbers currently in the 700,000 range, budget cuts have gone across the board at WWE. The effects of the cuts can clearly be seen on television not only by desperate network plugging you would never see in any pro sport with a cable network but also the company’s need to bring back past stars (Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam) and continually maintaining the main event status of John Cena, Randy Orton, Big Show, and Kane. The NBC rebroadcast of Wrestlemania 30 was proof of this. The rebroadcast only had time to highlight the marquee names and completely left out both of Daniel Bryan’s historic matches. Highlight Cena, Hogan, Rock, Austin, Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar = New network subscribers. It’s a business decision to play it safe.
Then came this past Monday’s Raw. Most of the air time was devoted to video packages building the Cena/Lesnar Summerslam match, the Stephanie/Brie contract signing, and Y2J. In between this Roman Reigns cut a dull promo and destroyed Kane in a last man standing match, Dean Ambrose distracted from a Seth Rollins/Heath Slater beat the clock challenge, and the underrated Dolph Ziggler squashed CESARO of all people. And then there was wasted television time on a Fandango match, an Adam Rose comedy segment (later to find out it was tied to a WWE movie coming to DVD), and a Sin Cara squash only seen on the APP. This formula is consistent throughout most Raw shows. How does any of this shit persuade anybody to subscribe to the WWE Network for $9.99 a month?
Is there a silver lining? Well, next week, the network expands overseas which will no doubt make up for the lost progress in subscriptions. Whether or not it’s too late remains to be seen. There’s also still improvements to be made to the network like any new business model starting out. Perhaps improved servers can get the full library up and include old episodes of Superstars, Wrestling Challenge, Prime Time Wrestling, Tuesday Night Titans, and others. The company can buy libraries from Stampede, AWA, Jim Crockett Promotions, New Japan, etc (TNA might be on the chopping block soon! Buy out their library for less than half a million!) to make rare show available. Add a Pandora-like service on the network to download old entrance themes and WWE-sponsored music. Buy out these reality shows from other networks like Shawn Michaels’ hunting show, reruns of Hogan Knows Best, Steve Blackman’s bounty hunting show, and maybe that Hero series produced by The Rock. Make the network worth more in value by not just providing nostalgia but sell what WWE does best: ENTERTAINMENT!
In the end, will any of this make me want to subscribe to the WWE Network for $9.99 a month? When my fucking ice cream bars return on the market, maybe we’ll do business.