Monday, July 18, 2016

.gifs and Wrestling

Animated .gifs of Ricochet are what lead to sales, brother
Photo Credit: Devin Chen
The Graphics Interchange Format, or .gif, has been around as long as the Internet has been ubiquitous in households across America. The file type allows for moving pictures in a controlled loop. If a still picture says a thousand words, then .gifs probably are worth a million. The format has gone from janky animation with awful resolution, good only for dancing animated bananas, to sophisticated replications of video with crystal clarity. One can see how these pictures can greatly enhance the enjoyment of professional wrestling. Instead of worrying about physical descriptions of matches or moves, no matter how beautiful or dry, a person can look at a spot thanks to intrepid people making .gifs out of them. They're pretty much the next level in advertising for any enterprising wrestling promotion, especially one that doesn't have a strong multimedia reach in the United States.

Case in point is the Ricochet/Will Ospreay match from Best of the Super Juniors. The match went viral mainly because of the .gifs that SenorLARIATO produced. I may never have checked the match out without seeing the .gifs, but after seeing the sizzle, watching them in context became a priority. The same principle applies to those people at the supermarket or outside the mall food court giving you free samples of their wares. By giving someone a taste, they hope to entice into purchasing the whole meal.

Of course, not everyone sees things in that light. PROGRESS Wrestling, the hottest wrestling promotion in England, has never liked people .gif-ing its shows, and has been on record for awhile. More recently, another intrepid .gif-maker Death to All Marks created a .gif of the finish to Ospreay/Pete Dunne at a recent PROGRESS show to which the person behind its Twitter account coldly chided him for. PROGRESS isn't the only member of wrestling management to express disdain for .gifs popping up. Larry Dallas, EVOLVE manager and employee/surrogate of Gabe Sapolsky in WWN Live, tweeted his disgust after EVOLVE 64. Sapolsky has long been a critic of piracy in wrestling, and I can only assume that the critics of .gifs see them as a form of stealing.

From a strictly technical standpoint, sure, the format is a form of piracy. People are taking footage from a wrestling show that other people nominally pay for and giving it out for free, even if its a loop of a few seconds out of a two-to-three hour show. Principles might make someone revile at stealing any footage, even if it's less than one percent of the entire runtime of the show. But those critics miss the forest for the trees. Yes, it technically is stealing, but it's like comparing the strategy of offering free samples to giving away the entire restaurant for free. Sure, some people will eat a sample and keep walking, just like some people will pop at the .gif and not buy the show.

But restaurants and supermarkets wouldn't keep giving out free samples if the practice didn't work. Making .gifs out of wrestling footage feels like it's in the same vein. Non-nationally televised wrestling is a soup of promotions where people either have to rely on word of mouth or go on maybe one or two wrestlers they've seen on other local shows. When .gifs are available, they can be the most effective way of showing that your show is worth the purchase.

New Japan Pro Wrestling gets it. In response to the wave of controversy generated by the .gif, it offered the Ospreay/Ricochet match for a limited time (the video is private now). The folks in charge realized that if people like that one match, they could sign up for their New Japan World gimmick and see more matches from Ricochet and Ospreay and maybe the one month subscription for the rest of Best of the Super Juniors turns into a couple more months because the other wrestlers were so appealing. It's not rocket science.

Wrestling promoters are well within their rights to refuse the .gif revolution, but they're going to be left behind in the dust behind those who embrace the format for advertisement, advertisement, I might add, that is being done free of charge by paying customers like SenorLARIATO, DTAM, Death to Smarks, Jocay19, GolazoDan, and the rest of the mammoth .gif-makers out there in the land. Companies that embrace the .giffage are going to be the ones selling their over-the-top subscriptions, DVDs, and VODs. To deride it as piracy is utter foolishness.