Monday, March 3, 2014

WWE Network: Great idea, but is it great now?

The free trial period of the brand-new "over-the-top" WWE Network (that is, not on cable or satellite, but available online and through some connected devices) ends today. Is it worth the 10 bucks a month it'll cost going forward? Particularly since they are asking for 6-month commitments?

There are a lot of bugs to work out, but if you're a hard-core wrestling fan, this is a no-brainer. If you buy even a few pay-per-view events per year, this is worth it because $10 a month is much, much less than $50 a month, plus you get so much more content. If you're not into wrestling at all, forget about it.

So what about lapsed fans like myself? I haven't watched the current product for years, but I loved pro wrestling for years, and I still enjoy following the industry and watching old footage. So for someone like me, it might be a more difficult choice. Let's look at the good and bad:

GOOD: PPV Value: Every pay-per-view will be shown live and on demand going forward.

The Main Feed: The live stream works pretty well and looks great.

Unpredictability: The exciting array of interstitial footage--old vignettes, miniature feature pieces shot for the network, vintage promos--make for fascinating in-between programming fodder on the live stream. It gives the channel a sense of fun, or better yet, adventure, like the old days of MTV. So much of the element of surprise is missing from today's WWE; it's nice to see some of that restored here.

On Demand: Almost every PPV event of WWE, WCW, and ECW are available on demand. Also, a smattering of other old-school programming, apparently all previously aired on WWE 24/7 (later Classics on Demand) is there.

Access: Kudos to WWE for making all programming closed captioned.

BAD: Limited compatible devices: I hoped I could enjoy WWE Network on Wii, but it is not supported yet. I hoped I could enjoy it on Roku, but it is only available on newer models. I hoped maybe my Blu-Ray would get a WWE Network app, but that is not the case, and there is no indication that it's coming soon. I know many are watching the service on Playstations or other devices, and there have been big problems with XBOX 360. But I am just saying for me personally, I can only use my laptop, and if I connect via HDMI, I can see it on my TV. That's kind of a pain, though. I'd love to have this on as background while I'm doing stuff ON my computer.

Technical Glitches: Signing up was difficult, and many have experienced inaccessibility in accessing the On Demand parts of the network. The big live event, an NXT special last week, was plagued by issues, which has many concerned about the viability of the live broadcast of WrestleMania next month.

No RAW/Smackdown: At least not for 30 days. They are protecting their deals with NBC/Comcast and Hulu (which offers replays), I assume, and that's understandable, but it's disappointing to cord cutters who would love to bypass USA and SyFy.

On Demand Programming: First of all, nowhere near the amount of library footage we hoped would be there is there now. Furthermore, not even all the footage that was reported to be there at launch is there now. Some PPV events were missing at launch. Some of the programs that were there last week have mysteriously vanished. I expected all the home video releases would be there, but so far virtually none of it (other than the PPVs) is.

No Love for Territories: Before Vince McMahon took over wrestling, there was a rich variety of action all across the country in the form of the regional promotions (territories) that ran their own cards and had their own talent. So far there is hardly any of that television even though McMahon owns most of it. Perhaps some of this is due to technical concerns, perhaps much of it is not digitized and network-ready, but a lot of it aired on 24/7 and could be ready to go now. So far, just a few World Class shows are up and an assortment of early ECW. Where's the AWA? Where's the Mid-Atlantic? I don't expect everything to be there at once, and there's still way more there than I have time to sit down and watch, but we were told we would get "unlimited access to the vast WWE library," and the offerings so far at launch are only a fraction of the fraction of that we would even reasonably expect to get. So far very little of what's been released is new, unaired footage to excite the enthusiasts.

No Resume Feature/No Watchlist/Inadequate Search: These are some things that we the viewing public expect from our SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) services. I'd really like to see a resume watching feature considering much of the most appealing material is several hours in length. Given that finding some of the programming is difficult right now, it would be great to have a Watchlist/Queue where we could stash interesting material once we DO locate it.

Overall, there is a lot wrong with WWE Network, but I have to come back to the value. Depending on your level of interest, this may be an easy decision. I have faith that the technical issues will be resolved eventually, though I do think WWE should extend the free trial by a week as a show of good faith considering how much trouble there was signing up for the service. However, at this point, we have a pretty good idea of what we're getting.

To me the big question mark is the library: How much of the vault will WWE let us see? If the first week's lineup is indicative, I will be very disappointed. If they are saving much of it for after the free trial and if they are diligently working to get more stuff on there, then this will be well worth the cost. The availability of the big events may even get me interested in the current product.

No comments: