WWE Stumbles on Network, PPV Buys

The WWE will continue to push for WWE Network subscriptions after a “SmackDown” of a week in which the over-the-top service’s six-week count of more than 667,000 subscribers fell short of Wall Street expectations, but boosted the reach of its WrestleMania XXX event to nearly 1 million households, including pay-per-view buys.

WWE Network executives said they are confident the network will reach its goal of 1 million paid subscribers as it continues to build up the value of the network through the airing of its major pay-per-view shows, such as the April 6 Wrestlemania XXX.

“We do believe that there is an adoption curve, so the fact that we delivered six hours of live content Sunday, including our biggest pay-per-view ever, without a technical glitch, is the best marketing you can do for the network,” Michelle Wilson, WWE’s chief revenue and marketing officer, said.

The WWE Network subscriber news disappointed investors and sent the company’s stock price tumbling. Wilson would not comment on the stock drop, but said WWE Network as a standalone entity only needed 400,000 subscribers to break even, with the 1 million subscriber mark needed to make up for any and all revenue losses from pay-per-view.

She would not reveal specific Wrestlemania PPV-buy numbers, but said domestically the combination of PPV buys and WWE Network subscriptions put the total Wrestlemania household reach number at nearly 1 million.

Last year’s Wrestlemania event generated about 1 million buys worldwide. “We’ve never done 1 million domestically, so we see that as more encouraging news in the fact that the network is bringing in even more than our current pay-perview buyers,” she said.

PPV event distributors reported a significant year-toyear dropoff in PPV buys due to the event’s airing on the WWE Network. One distributor said Wrestlemania buys were off as much as 50%, and that the event probably would have done better than last year had it been distributed exclusively via PPV. Distributors share in PPV revenue but get nothing from WWE Network subscriptions.

DirecTV, which had been critical of the WWE Network’s plans, said, “While we don’t release specific numbers on any pay-per-view event, WWE events have been declining steadily over the past few years, and this event is no exception.”

Still, Wilson said, Wrestlemania’s performance bodes well for other upcoming PPV events. “As long as our providers want us to offer pay-per-view, we’re happy to do that and we’re happy to give our fans a choice,” she said.

Wilson said the WWE Network will expand to other devices over the next few months, including Microsoft’s XBox One console and connected TV sets. It’s also launching new series, including Legends House, a reality show about eight former WWE superstars living in a house together.

“We believe new shows like that will continue to drive more subscribers, as well as our pay-per-view events, which are still the core of the value proposition,” she said. “We will continue to make sure every pay-per-view event is a tremendous attraction.”

Wilson also said WWE is “still in discussions” for a cable-network home for its popular Monday Night Raw and SmackDown franchises after a deal with NBCUniversal’s USA Network and Syfy expire in September. NBCU’s exclusive negotiating window for the WWE properties ended in February.

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.