The announcement last month that the WWE Network had obtained 667,287 subscribers in its first six weeks of existence was trumpeted as a major success by the company, which they claimed proved that they were well on their way of hitting their goal of one million subscriptions by the end of 2014 and made their channel the fastest-growing digital subscription service in the country.
Their confidence was boosted when they discovered that nearly 400,000 homes had purchased WrestleMania 30 on traditional pay-per-view rather than watch it on the new WWE Network. All WWE had to do was convert those people into network subscribers before the end of the year and they'd meet their target.
Of course, the killer flaw in that theory is that there wouldn't be another WWE event that garners the same level of viewing interest until WrestleMania 31, three months after the deadline they had set themselves to break the million barrier. The biggest show left on the calendar, SummerSlam, only drew 185,000 North American buys last year, and presumably the majority of those hardcore fans would have already signed up for the Network.
It looks like WWE themselves are starting to realise the erroneous assumptions that they've made in their bullish hypotheses, which has led to a series of desperate decisions that expose their corporate spin for what it is, bluff and bluster, as they scramble to boost their Network subscription figures pronto to keep their anxious investors content and onboard.
WWE can't be blamed for this, but Perkins Miller, their former Executive Vice President of Digital Media, abruptly leaving for a better job with the NFL as the Chief Digital Officer of their new online network NFL Now last month, is clearly badly timed. Although he successfully saw through the launch of the WWE Network and helped navigate WWE through its initial teething problems, his departure leaves them without an experienced technology guru to help refine their marketing strategy and improve the channel. At a time when cool heads are needed, his guidance will likely be sorely missed, as Vince McMahon can be dangerously erratic when the chips are down.
Indeed, it seems a highly foolish move to quietly fire Matthew Singerman, WWE's Executive Vice President of Programming, the person who was responsible for the scheduling and shows on the Network, last week, less than six months after he was hired. As this news trickles out, it may spook WWE stockholders who are still being sold the idea that all is well with the project. It also leaves a power vacuum at the top of the WWE Network food chain that will take time and money to fill.
The one month Network referral program that WWE announced this week, whereby they give away $50 in WWEShop.com promotional gift cards to get $60 back over six months of subscription fees, makes no business sense over the short term. Sure, it'll artificially pad out their membership numbers, but it'll hurt their bottom line for the next two financial quarters and there's no guarantee that enough of these bargain hunters will renew their subscriptions come November to make any money on the deal. Clearly, new subscribers must have been enrolling at a snail's pace without the promotion, but it would have been much wiser to come up with an idea that didn't essentially give away five months subscription to the Network for free.
According to Dave Meltzer on his latest subscriber only Wrestling Observer Radio show, WWE's latest trick was to pull John Cena from last night's Monday Night Raw and have his first promo back after his loss to Bray Wyatt at Extreme Rules be a Network exclusive on tonight's Main Event. It's obviously a smart idea to attempt to turn Main Event into must see programming, but if people weren't willing to sign up to the Network to watch their heavily hyped cage match, then they're highly unlikely to do so for the fallout interview, which will have to be replayed on WWE's free programming anyway if anything of note occurs. Also, such stunts can't be done too regularly or else WWE may risk hurting their ratings for Raw.
Thus, the official talk that the WWE Network is off to a roaring start and that there's great internal confidence that it will accomplish all of their lofty projections, clearly is not the case, and they're throwing all the shit to the wall they can think of to turn things around. It looks like it could be an uphill battle, at least until the Network is rolled out internationally, which is the best way of increasing subscribers significantly. That time, whether it be six months or a year, may not come quick enough for Vince McMahon.
We'll have more news on this story, Cagesiders, as it develops.