The biggest news story in professional wrestling in 2012 will almost certainly be the establishment of the WWE Network. It's the biggest risk Vince McMahon has taken since the monumental failure of his American football league the XFL in 2001, which only lasted one season but still lost his company a whopping $68,994,000. Success will take WWE to new financial heights, while failure has the potential to cripple the company and be a difficult blow to overcome. So it is imperative that this is the one outside venture that Vince gets right.
Particularly well suited to comment on the network's prospects is former WWE creative team member Court Bauer, as he maintains contacts within the company and has established other sources within the television industry from developing and producing TV shows since leaving WWE. A few days ago, he was on Bryan Alvarez's radio show Figure Four Daily and didn't paint a rosy picture for the network's future:
I met with someone recently that works for a major partner of WWE's and they are just in disbelief and they don't believe it is going to be able to launch in April. It's gonna launch, Vince is adamant it's gonna launch, but they don't have a business plan. They don't have anything that details what this is going to be, they don't have a blueprint for how they're, again, going to monetize this, how they're going to make money, and I can tell you from talking to people that are involved with ad sales for Syfy, for example, WWE programming in 2012, Smackdown ad rates aren't looking good. What they're attracting in terms of ad partners, not hot, not good. So that's on Syfy, not a great network but still, Syfy. WWE, its own network, 24 hours of content, whether it's repeats and replays and so on, but still 24 hours a day, what do you think they're going to get? It's gonna be horrible! At the same time they're spending all this money, going deep into their cash reserves to try to enhance their production facilities, to add staffing to be able to facilitate this thing, it's a huge risk.
Bauer went on to suggest that WWE will have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find carriers for their channel, which would guarantee a limp start to the project.
Apparently the indecisive Vince McMahon hasn't even come up with a clear picture of the programming that will be on the network, which is why his underlings have brainstormed lots of novel ideas and are surveying the fans for their feedback, so they can take that market research to him and force the old man into making a choice before it's too late. After all, you can't rewrite a week's worth of programming on the day the network is supposed to air for the first time, like he forces his writers to do for Raw all the time.
Bauer also confirmed what we had reported two months ago that Vince had brought forward the launch date of the WWE network to jump the gun on UFC, who had been in talks earlier this year to buy a 60% share in the G4 cable network from Comcast, before signing with the Fox Broadcasting Company. Likely inspired by his Las Vegas based rivals, Vince McMahon attempted to buy Universal HD, a low profile network that broadcasts exclusively in high definition and primarily airs rerun programming, from his partners NBCUniversal, but Bonnie Hammer politely rebuffed his advances, so he had to resort to plan B of starting his own network from scratch. Vince may not realise this, but Dana White will have the last laugh. Though UFC won't have a network, next year, starting in January, Fuel is set to air 2,000 hours of UFC programming, so they'll have several hours of daily programming without all the risk that comes with developing your own channel. However, both companies may eventually find out that television overexposure is a drain on their other revenue streams, which would be a double whammy in WWE's case.