"It's way over the top"
This year's keynotes at CES came to an epic conclusion tonight with the announcement of the WWE Network.
Yes, World Wrestling Entertainment, which has long existed as a mainstay of pay-per-view, is coming to the web. The service will consist of a 24/7 live streaming service of original content along with a massive on-demand library of past content. Also included is access to all pay-per-view shows past, present and future. Streaming will be available on WWE.com, apps for iOS, Android and Kindle, as well as on PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox, Roku — and at least one platform that Michelle Wilson, WWE Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, was not allowed to mention.
The price tag comes to $9.99 a month, which if you ask any WWE fan is well worth it. Especially when it would cost well over $600 a year to buy all 12 of the pay-per-view events that WWE produces.
Why is WWE creating its own online-only network when it's clearly made plenty of money off TV productions, live events and licensed merchandise? Because there's still a lot more money to be made. WWE's research indicated that of the 116 million U.S. homes with televisions (that's pretty much every U.S. home), there are 62 million with a WWE fan. Those fans watch five times as much online digital content than non-fans, and are twice as likely to pay for online subscription services like Netflix or Hulu Plus.
So instead of dealing with the hassle of setting up a traditional television structure, WWE decided to go "over the top" and deliver its content over the internet. WWE wanted to enable their fans to access their content at any time from anywhere, so the online WWE Network was their best option, both in terms of speed to market and a direct customer relationship.
Because WWE knows its fans are across the globe, WWE Network will be launching in 10 countries: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, the UK and the United States. Apparently the Norse love them some WWE.
"I'm saying it with an S."
Just how is WWE going to fill up 24 hours for days and days on end? With a mix of live and produced content, reality shows, pre- and post-event shows, and eventually a daily studio show. The on-demand library will include more than 100,000 hours of content, including every single WWE, WCE, and ECW event, including RAW and Smackdown. Even WWE Home Video productions will be included.
The original content brought to life by WWE Network will span the gamut for WWE fans. NXT will be a one-hour weekly reality show chronicling the development of rising talent at the NXT training center in Orlando. Legends House puts eight retired WWE legends into the same house, including Roddy Piper and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Monday Night War will chronicle the escalating battle between WWE RAW and WCW Nitro.
The only show that felt like a potential dud was WWE Countdown, a fan-survey-driven show that counts down things like the top-voted catchphrases, managers, entrances, and finishing moves. It felt a lot like filler content, but 24-hour-a-day isn't going to be easy to fill.
As the WWE is an entertainment machine, the keynote was by far the most entertaining of CES (save for maybe T-Mobile CEO John Legere). Everybody was well-rehearsed, the delivery was engaged and energetic, and the script was full of in-jokes (including two pointed jabs at Michael Bay's catastrophic failure at the Samsung keynote earlier in the week. It helps when you've got entertainers like Stone Cold Steve Austin threatening to open a can of whoop ass and declaring things to be so because "that's the bottom line because Stone Cold said so" and Shawn Michaels and Triple H engaging in entertaining off-the-cuff banter with Stephanie McMahon. And, of course, Vince McMahon being his usual imposing self. And John Cena, whom the crowd just loved.
"Tap the gizmo, the touch things"
Perkins Miller, EVP of Digital Media took the stage to show how just how the WWE Network will work. Sign-up is a matter of three clicks on WWE.com, made even easier with the option to sign in with Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. You can, of course, create an account without using those services, but WWE wanted to make things as easy as possible.
The service on all platforms will offer 720p HD streaming (shame it's not 1080p, but that can always be changed). There's an enhanced programming guide that allows users to not only see what's coming up on the broadcasts, but to start over on programs that are in progress, go back in time and call back and stream on-demand a program you missed earlier. Additionally, you can set reminders for future programming and have notifications pushed to you via text messages or notifications from the mobile apps.
WWE Network will also support "second screen" content when watching on a big screen. Judging by the Google Chromecast that was included in press kits, they intend to allow streaming from mobile devices to your television (presumably AirPlay to Apple TV will also be supported). Second screen content in the WWE app will include stats, biographies, and more. Additionally you'll be presented with the opportunity to purchase tickets to local WWE events and merchandise.
All of this is being brought to life with the help of MLB Advanced Media, the company that built and runs the websites and streaming services of of the MLB and ESPN, as well as the highly-regarded MLB At Bat mobile app. WWE Network is the largest undertaking that MLBAM has taken on, but in a way is also a natural evolution of their projects.
WWE Network is scheduled to launch in 47 days, on Feb. 24 at 11:05 p.m. EST — right after the conclusion of WWE RAW. The first live pay-per-view event that will hit WWE Network will be none other than WrestleMania 30.
WWE is going online in a big way, and they're going online in the right way. Regardless of whether or not you're a WWE fan, you have to be impressed with the scope of the project and the complete and utter embrace of their fans.
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Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm (the old one), and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.