WWE Smacks Down Cable And Goes Over-The-Top

For you wrestling fans out there, keep tuning into the Syfy channel for SmackDown and USA Network for Monday Night Raw; and be prepared for the all new over-the-top (OTT) WWE streaming network, coming to a connected device near you on February 24. Gone are the days of gathering enough friends together to fit the bill for the big pay-per-view (PPV) event. Wrestling fans will be able to access monthly PPV events, a lineup of original shows and historical programming from WWE's library, all for $9.99 a month. For those who have experienced the ritual of a WWE event, this is a changing of the guard. It’s a transition from the tradition of ordering PPV events through a cable provider to the ability to stream them on a connected TV. 

I’ll profess; my fandom lasted through the college years. I spent many Monday nights with the crew, switching between WCW and WWF (not a bad way to extend the already long college weekend).  While this announcement has a considerable positive impact for fans, there is also a profound impact on the business of TV.

Newsworthy, because instead of procuring a TV Network distribution deal for new programming or creating a proprietary network such as the Yankees’ YES, WWE is offering fans an OTT streaming subscription service. Unlike just about every other TV channel app, the WWE Network does not require a fan to be a pay-TV subscriber. The subscription provides viewer’s the much anticipated pay-per-view events, a devastating blow to the platform wrestling helped bring into existence in the 80’s.  It’s hard to imagine many WWE fans with connected TVs passing on this offer, yet another sign of things to come within the TV industry. Indeed, WWE is well positioned to be an industry leader since they own original content and don’t run a network that is beholden to cable operator partnerships. The bottom line: they were never truly bundled in those cable deals we all love to hate, so unbundling is a bit easier. In contrast, if HBO were to offer HBOGO outside of a pay TV subscription, they would threaten their long standing cable affiliate partnerships that control the billing relationship with all of their subscribers. 

What’s most interesting is the leverage and cross promotion opportunities that will surface. This is not surprising, considering Vince McMahon built the organization through shrewd ground breaking business decisions such as securing top talent Hulk Hogan in a lifetime contract.  With their exclusive negotiating window with NBCUniversal said to be closing out at the end of the month, having their own distribution channel will likely offer a chip in those discussions. Further, you’d expect any new TV network deal will require cross-promotion of the WWE Network and in return those viewers will be encouraged to tune into the basic cable broadcasts. And, in the wresting world, promotion is not a subtle form of communication. Within the retail sector, they call this Omni-channel. Here in the TV Land, let’s call this a wise decision to provide viewers the content they want, where and when they want it. WWE may have just nailed TV Everywhere; nice way to leap forward in the digital age.

It takes a connected viewer to make a move such as this possible. In working with Entertainment companies, sporting leagues and TV networks we often advise on digital strategy and assess the connectivity of their audiences.  It turns out that WWE fan’s TVs are more likely to be connected than the national average. That means we’re not talking about fans huddling around a tablet or using a smartphone, today streaming networks hit home because they reach the TV. According to NPD’s Connected Intelligence, Connected Home Consumer Index, WWE fans significantly over-index for owning video game consoles and streaming media players. So, thumbs up to the launch strategy that includes PlayStation, Xbox and Roku.

My wrestling heritage started and ended back in college. If my son grows up anticipating the next main event, rest assured our household will be paying its $9.99 a month. And, he’ll probably be talking with his friends about those old days when fans used to order these things called pay-per-view events. So old school…