At the Wynn Hotel and Casino on Wednesday evening, wrestlers including Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon dropped another bombshell in the streaming wars. The oft-announced WWE Network will in fact become reality on Feb. 24 at 11:05, for a frankly surprisingly low $9.99 a month, and it will include all of the network's pay-per-views, including WrestleMania. It will not be carried in cable subscriptions; it will simply stream on every device you own.
Reading between the lines, it doesn't look like originals of Raw and Smackdown, two mainstays (and perennial ratings-getters) for NBCUniveral's USA Network and Syfy, respectively, will be included in the deal-but old episodes will be available on the new network, as will pre- and post-show content.
It's an undeniably gutsy move for the entertainment company and one likely to raise its profile, but it's also a costly one. The network boasted "live and scheduled content with an on-demand library of thousands of hours of content, " available on "laptops, desktops, gaming consoles, mobile phones" and announced plans for a slate of original reality shows.
Perkins Miller, head of digital for the company, said WWE would stream at a max resolution of 720p and include bells and whistles like push notifications for the networks' mobile app, which will also stream the shows on your smartphone when you're not at home and provide second-screen content when you are.
It's a deal WWE has been trying to seal for several years. Indeed, it was so hard for the network to get traditional carraige agreements that the company's official twitter feed had this gem just a few tweets down:
RT if you want @WWENetwork on your cable/satellite system in 2012! #WWENetwork #WWE— WWE Network (@WWENetwork)
With the digital network, WWE will be taking full advantage of multiple revenue streams (though it remains to be seen whether those will be as lucrative as a sub fee from Comcast or Cablevision): the apps will enable viewers to buy tickets to the org's live events (hundreds a year), as well as providing an e-store for merch like clothing and toys.
WWE has one of the few back catalogs that hasn't yet been monetized by a streaming service; this new experiment will demonstrate exactly how well a single fandom can support a single stream of content.
In an interesting contrast to earlier events from CES, the TelePrompTer at the Wynn managed to freak out, tripping up yet another presenter. "Easy, Michael B-b-b-bay, " said Shawn Michaels as he and Triple H sauntered back onto the stage to rescue their putative boss. The pair improvised for a couple of minutes, then Michaels closed with, "We look forward to joining you on the WWE network. Say 'Thank you, Perkins.'"