Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One Year of WWE Network

The Network was good and bad at the same time
Graphics by John Lefteratos
WWE Network turned a year old on Monday of this week. It has brought mixed providence along with it over its first year, but most innovations need some time to work the bugs out. However, its biggest source of tension hasn't been as a technological innovation. The entity has split into two distinct things, almost like a Christian Holy Trinity-esque being that is one but with two equal components. As a delivery for WWE programming, both current and archival, it has been more than adequate outside of that bumpy first month where nothing worked and everything took FOREVER to buffer. But its second identity as a incorporeal character within the WWE narrative has been an unmitigated disaster.

The biggest tragedy in that dichotomy is that the secondary portion of the Network never needed to exist in the first place. However, Vince McMahon has this nasty habit of turning his personal labors of love into wars against people who don't need to be fought. McMahon made the grandiose claim about what the Network could be, and when it didn't turn out the way he wanted it, he turned the price point into a catchphrase, and the Network itself as this boogeyman, sneering at anyone who was hesitant to adopt the new technology during every pay-per-view broadcast, and being offered as a makegood anytime he knew he fucked up creatively. I don't know about you, but I could see where that attitude could turn more people off than it brought in.

But therein lies the tragedy; the Network is still the future of not only wrestling distribution, but for television distribution on the whole. And for a massive venture in its first year, it has been mostly a positive. The audience has experienced hiccups here and there, but compare the loss of some episodes of Nitro, the delay of launch in the United Kingdom, and the loss of Main Event thanks to broadcast contracts in said UK to what could have gone wrong.

The focus, however, has been more on the narrative character and shit like subscriber numbers. And really, it's a microcosm of how when left to his own devices, McMahon can't be trusted to do anything. Over-the-top distribution is the first major delivery system that is more independent than anything. Every other mode of delivery requires a middleman. Live shows require arenas. Syndicated television needs stations to carry. Pay-per-view requires carriers. Cable television networks decide whether they want wrestling. But the only infrastructure needed for over-the-top is the Internet, which is for now open and free.

McMahon's hubris on subscriber numbers and his marketing tactics have shown that he is as good a salesman nowadays as he is a lead writer/head booker. The Network, despite his best attempts, will never fail to the point of shutdown. However, he left so much on the table with it that it feels like a failure when in reality, it's the best thing to happen to WWE and possibly wrestling in the last five to ten years. One year of ghastly promotion and interminable hubris can do a lot of damage, and it's just another reason why Vince McMahon probably needs to go.