WWE Puts Its Shoulder Into Push for New Network

To kick off its new over-the-top video-streaming network, WWE will offer viewers a free week-long trial as it continues to pin down final details for the Feb. 24 launch.

The WWE Network, airing WWE original series and more than 1,500 hours of video-on-demand library content — as well as the pro wrestling outfit’s monthly pay-per-view events — goes live at 9 a.m. on Feb. 24, said WWE chief revenue and marketing officer Michelle Wilson. Pro-wrestling fans can sign up for the $9.99 per month service at the WWE.com website; subscribers will have to commit to six monthly payments at the time of signup, network officials said.

The multimillion-dollar promotional launch of the digital WWE Network comes as the company negotiates new carriage deals for its popular weekly series WWE Monday Night Raw on USA Network and SmackDown on Syfy. The WWE is currently in an exclusive negotiating period with NBCUniversal, parent of both networks; the current carriage agreements for the two shows expire at the end of the year.

WWE has said it doesn’t plan to move either Raw or SmackDown to its new WWE Network, noting that the series are more valuable as marketing and promotional tools for the new network if they continue airing on highly distributed cable networks. USA executives declined to comment on the matter.

Users can take the free one-week free trial of the WWE Network anytime between its Feb. 24 launch and up to a week before its April 6 Wrestlemania XXX pay-per-view event, Wilson said. She added the free trial will be the cornerstone message of the network’s multimillion dollar advertising campaign, which will tap into WWE’s database of nearly 2 million fans as well as use non- WWE media to promote the network leading into Wrestlemania XXX.

While Wilson would not disclose specific details of the six-week marketing plan, she said WWE would target big sports events like “March Madness,” the NCAA college basketball tournament, as well as entertainment shows and music media.

The company will also promote the WWE Network through its network carriage deals with connected TV devices, including video game consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 3 and 4 and Microsoft’s XBOX 360; Roku boxes; and Android and iOSbased mobile devices, Wilson said. Consumers though, will only be able to stream WWE Network content from one device at a time.

“The network proposition not only appeals to our fans that watch our programming week in and week out, but we know that the network appeals to our casual fans who might not be watching every week or our lapsed fans who have not watched over the last six months to a year or more,” she said.

Wilson would not project how many subscribers the network expects to attract, but said she anticipates a surge of signups at launch and a subsequent build-up in the weeks before Wrestlemania XXX, which will be the first PPV event to air on the network. The WWE has said it needs 1 million subscribers to offset potential PPV revenue losses.

“Our fans are used to buying WWE PPV events the day of the event, so I think for us we will have a better indication of where we’re at after Wrestlemania,” she said.

The WWE will continue to provide marketing support to distributors for its PPV events despite also offering those events on the WWE Network. “We will continue to market the PPV events the way we have in the past,” she said. “For us it’s all about our fans having a choice, so they can watch Wrestlemania live on PPV or live on the WWE Network.”

In Demand will continue to offer the WWE PPV events in the short term, according to a company executive. “While we are maintaining the status quo, we will also be evaluating our options going forward,” the executive added.

R. Thomas Umstead

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.