Well, Cagesiders, it looks like WWE is really going to go through with their plans to create a 24/7 premium pay channel called the WWE Network.
That wasn't their first idea of course, but they were forced to move to a subscription based model when cash-strapped cable operators didn't think the network was worth their money, worried that there was already enough wrestling content on television already between Monday Night Raw, Smackdown, WWE Main Event and WWE Saturday Morning Slam. Given the flagging ratings for Raw since moving to a three hour format, those fears seem well founded, but that hasn't put off the company from following their dream of running their own wrestling station.
According to a news report last week by rbr.com, WWE has done a feasibility study for their prospective network and feel that half the country's homes could potentially be interested in their channel:
"According to an SNL Kagan report, WWE has done its homework, and thinks it has the potential to be of interest to fully half of America's TV households. That is about 57 million homes for those of you keeping score at home.
WWE says that about 20% of that group, 12 million or so, are hardcore fans who know the wrestlers, are on top of what's going on and watch regularly on the channels that show it - prominently including USA, ION and SyFy, among others.
40% are casual fans - they'll watch on occasion, but are not heavily invested in the programming.
The other 40% are what WWE thinks of as lapsed fans - they used to watch some wrestling but have not done so for a period of time, and perhaps could be coaxed back."
Even if you add up all the average viewers of all four WWE television shows combined, at the moment you'd only get up to about 9-10 million viewers a week (homes would be considerably less than that), which obviously doesn't take into account all the double, triple and quadruple counting of those who watch more than one WWE program each week. And if there were so many casual fans, WWE Raw's ratings would spike a lot higher when mainstream stars like The Rock and Brock Lesnar make their rare appearances.
If the network was going to be free, then maybe even these inflated figures could hold a little water, but you aren't going to get very many casual or lapsed wrestling fans to pay $15 a month for a form of entertainment they hardly watch already. That means for their network to be profitable they would need to get a substantial percentage of their regular TV viewers to cough up for the channel, a tough order when the vast majority of them are currently freeloaders who don't order pay-per-views, buy merchandise or attend house shows.
Though there's likely a few hundred thousand fans who can't get enough WWE programming, all business indicators suggest that for the average fan they've reached a saturation point. WWE, however, is ignoring these perilous signs and have come up with a cockeyed theory that the more product they produce, the more their fans will want it:
"The theory is that the availability of content builds the appetite for even more - and WWE cites the NFL's dedicated channel as an example."
Moreover, the NFL is an absolutely absurd comparison, given that it's the most popular sports league in the United States and WWE would be more akin to a niche sport without mainstream acceptance like UFC.
The rbr.com report ended by confirming that the WWE Network would indeed have to largely be funded by subscription fees:
"The dream to get a 24-hour channel together most likely will not be fulfilled by creation of another basic service. According to SNL, MVPDs are not anxious to add any more consent fees to their overhead. So if the WWE dream is to come true, expect some form of pay service as the vehicle of choice."
We should know more on this never-ending network journey on Thursday when WWE reports their third quarter results and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon will be on hand to host a conference call, one in which he hoped to finally make an announcement regarding the long delayed WWE Network.