Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On King of the Ring and Network Specials

More of stuff like this on The Network, please
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The semifinals and finals of the King of the Ring tournament will be airing tonight on the WWE Network. R-Truth, Wade Barrett, Neville, and Sheamus are the semifinalists, which should ensure at least two if not three decent-at-least matches (Truth can pull a good match out of his butt from time to time). While the tournament's promotion seems to be a make-good on Main Event's disappearance from the Network, it is also a glimpse into the kind of versatility in booking events that said over-the-top streaming service gives the company. King of the Ring clearly is not ever going to be its own pay-per-view again, but it's also something that is a bit more special than what usually gets broadcast on RAW. It's an event that it tailor-made for the Network.

In the first year of its existence, WWE has only scratched the surface in how versatile a tool it has in its in-house streaming output. Having pay-per-view events pre-and-post shows for those aforementioned shows as well as for the regularly televised offerings, NXT, and providing access to its massive archive is just the start of what could be offered. The increase in original shows, like documentaries, reality shows, or the upcoming slate of scripted non-wrestling programs shows an increased understanding of the size and scope of the studio space, but even that isn't at the boundary of potential. WWE, no matter what Vince McMahon and his cronies say otherwise, is at heart a wrestling organization, so why not provide more and more live, first-run wrestling content than what is already available?

WWE broke ground on that versatility last year, when it ran an exclusive post-RAW match for the United States Championship between Sheamus and Rusev. The King of the Ring is just an extension of that policy, and one that should serve as a template going forward. Pay-per-views on the Network are great because they provide an affordable access point for fans, but it's clear WWE does not want to alter the formula on those shows from what's already been established. The unique matches and experimental stuff can totally happen on The Network as "exclusive" content that people can't otherwise watch without a subscription.

The King of the Ring tourney becoming an annual Network exclusive should only be the beginning of a bigger rollout. The slate really should feature a variety of different concepts and shows that should not be limited to standalone specials like the show tonight. WWE actually sniffed around another great path for using The Network with the Sheamus/Rusev match. If John Cena is making the United States Championship the de facto Television Title, then what's to stop the company from making the Intercontinental Championship a Network-exclusive Championship? Imagine twice or three times a month Daniel Bryan or whoever holds the the title gets 10-20 minutes after RAW or Smackdown to have a marquee match on exclusive WWE airspace. That would automatically enhance the experience for new and existing subscribers.

In reality, The Network is only limited by WWE's budget and imagination, and since WWE owns the airspace, the budget portion might not be as much of a concern as one might think. The King of the Ring could be a blip in the radar, or it could very well be the beginning of what the WWE Network could ultimately become. Hopefully, the turn of events makes it more the latter, but that's up to the people in charge.