Cable operators and Viewer's Choice lashed out at
World Championship Wrestling last week, after its Oct. 25 Halloween Havoc
pay-per-view event ran 20 minutes long and its parent aired the conclusion on basic cable
the following night.
Operators last week reported fielding hundreds of calls
from disgruntled subscribers. The operators were angered even more when WCW ran the
pre-empted match during its Monday Night Nitro show on Turner Network Television,
killing their plans to offer replays on PPV.
Both TNT and WCW are owned by Turner Broadcasting System
The final straw to operators came during the telecast, when
WCW on-air announcers intimated that the industry, and not WCW, was to blame for the
Operators estimated that they will likely end up losing
hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if not millions -- due to the mishap, as well as
enormous subscriber goodwill.
Citing "unforeseen circumstances involving
injuries" to its wrestlers and longer-than-usual matches, the scheduled three-hour,
$29.95 event spilled over an extra 20 minutes, said Jay Hassman, director of PPV for WCW.
The overtime period included the show's
much-anticipated main event between two of its more popular wrestlers, Diamond Dallas Page
and Bill Goldberg. Also shown during that period was the conclusion of a match featuring
Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
The move prompted thousands of calls and e-mail messages
from subscribers to unsuspecting system customer-service representatives, demanding
explanations, PPV executives said.
"It really disappointed our customers," said
Robyn Remick, director of partnership marketing and PPV for Tele-Communications Inc.
"This is one of the highest-grossing yearly PPV events, and [WCW] jeopardized our
Most MSOs provided credits for subscribers who called in to
Preliminary estimates put the buys for Havoc at
around 350,000 to 400,000, slightly above last year's figures.
Last Monday, Viewer's Choice, which distributed the
event to operators, immediately suggested that they provide the already-scheduled
Tuesday-night run of the Havoc replay to consumers free-of-charge, or that they
provide partial $5 or $10 refunds. But TNT's airing of the event's climax killed
Hassman said TNT took its actions -- as well as issuing an
apology -- after operators complained that subscribers would not be mollified by a replay.
"The WCW was forced with the decision on Monday night
to deal with what happened on Sunday," Hassman said. "We knew that most of the
viewers who ordered the event on Sunday would be watching on Monday, so we made it
convenient for the subscribers who told operators that it wouldn't be convenient to
watch [the replay] on Tuesday night."
But some operators were perturbed at WCW's actions.
Cable One of Fargo, N.D. -- which was initially giving the Tuesday-night PPV replay away,
along with a $10 rebate -- was forced to add two free PPV movies after WCW ran the main
event on TNT. As a result, the event -- which was tracking as one of the most successful
of the year for the system -- will most likely end up being a money-loser for it.
"A lot of people were confused after Sunday's
event, but the Nitro event added even more confusion," said Eric Lardy,
marketing assistant at the system. "Our image in the community is important to us,
and the way [that WCW] portrayed it on Nitro and on its Web sites created a
negative image for the industry."
Viewer's Choice took a more terse tone against WCW in
a letter that the PPV network sent to operators last week. The network said it told WCW
that airing the main event Monday would be "in violation of its contract with
us," but WCW telecast the match anyway.
Further, Viewer's Choice wrote that during the TNT
telecast, WCW on-air talent "falsely stated that the problem with the live broadcast
was the result of cable operators 'prematurely cutting off the end of the
Viewer's Choice representatives would not comment on
the letter, nor would they say if they were planning any actions against WCW.
Hassman said the company's on-air message was not
intended to place any blame for the event's overrun on the industry.
"At no time did we intend to convey that we were
blaming anybody but the WCW, and if it was interpreted by people that way, then we
apologize," Hassman said. "We're working with distributors to ensure that
this never happens again."
The incident will most likely lead to a change in policy
regarding the scheduling of events.
Michael Klein, senior vice president of Viewer's
Choice, said the network would recommend to operators that it open both the live event and
the immediate replay to event buyers. That way, if the live event goes over its allotted
time, it will overlap the beginning of the replay telecast.
Currently, many systems immediately cut off the live event
after three hours in order to take additional orders for the replay.
WCW suggested that live events receive extra 30-minute
buffers to compensate for late-running shows.
Hassman believes that the incident will not hurt future WCW
"Our fans are very loyal; we made a quick apology to
our fans Monday night," he added.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.