EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 16: Vince McMahon attends a press conference to announce that WWE Wrestlemania 29 will be held at MetLife Stadium in 2013 at MetLife Stadium on February 16, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images)
WWE is currently on full countdown alert as it gears up for its biggest event of the year, WrestleMania 28 on Sun., April 1, 2012, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. It's a loaded show that has already set records as the highest revenue grossing event in company history (thanks to increased prices) and it's expected to break the record for pay-per-view buys, as well. Or at least that's what the company is hoping for.
But this weekend was also supposed to mark the launch of another high profile venture from Vince McMahon and Co. ... the WWE Network.
McMahon has wanted to create his very own network for years now, but for various reasons never got around to actually doing so, or even attempting to. As it turns out, there's been a good reason for that. For starters, it's going to cost a ton of money to get it up and off the ground and that's a risk that may not be worth taking during these shaky financial times.
Combine that with the fact that top cable executives have shown little to no interest in going to work for a project they feel will ultimately fail and this thing has W-A-S-T-E written in big bold letters on the side of it.
Nonetheless, WWE is soldiering on with its pipe dream, with Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson telling NewsTimes.com that there will be a WWE Network at some point:
"There will be a WWE network in some shape or form. We are in late-stage negotiations with distributors. Getting a distribution agreement for a cable network is not easy. We've filled 30 positions so far specifically for the network. They come with cable experience at ESPN, Viacom, Discovery and Warner Brothers TV."
She also did her best to assuage fears brought on by the New York Post's scathing piece on the many woes still facing the Network's creation. The goal, as Wilson puts it, is to reach 50 million homes -- which is hugely ambitious for a start up with no proven track record and niche programming at best -- and to charge a subscription fee from each distributor.
The idea that WWE will be able to make the Network profitable within a short time span is silly at best. They have a massive library that they've failed to take full advantage of but re-airing old wrestling footage isn't exactly going to make advertisers come running because there just isn't a large enough audience for it, as evidenced by the Classics on Demand service not getting nearly as much attention as the company thought it would.
One need look no further than the many struggles the NFL has faced in getting its own Network up and off the ground and turning it into a successful venture, something it couldn't say until recently. The thought process there was largely the same -- NFL Films has thousands and thousands of hours of exclusive interesting footage, including classic games, so let's put it to use. But it failed for years to draw much of an audience and caused the league to start airing live games during the season on a special night just to draw ratings. Even that took longer than expected to see a big return because it found trouble cutting deals with distributors that made sense for all parties involved.
And therein lies the rub. WWE claims to be in deep negotiations with distributors but what package will they offer that fans will shell out money for? The NFL Network couldn't do much better than a pay package that requires an upgrade to user's service through most cable providers. Even to this day, almost nine years after the NFL Network launched, it's only available in roughly 60 million homes.
And WWE thinks it's going to cut a deal to be available in 50 million as a start up? Uh-huh.
The good news, at least, is that the company has seemingly abandoned its bull rush approach and pushed back the launch date to the fall of this year at the earliest. It's fair to wonder if the Network will ever get off the ground at all but there's no doubting the fact that an audience exists for it.