For the past two years, WWE has worked toward the goal of launching its own TV network: Thousands of hours of TV episodes and pay-per-view events from its vast library have been digitized, staff has been hired, and a Twitter feed has some 94,000 followers. Part of the $40 million already spent has gone to original series, including a “Big Brother”-like reality show featuring WWE legends.
(From the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety.)
What’s still missing is a launch date. With carriers clamping down on the costs of basic cable and satellite channels (and the per-subscriber fees they’re willing to pay to channels on that tier), plans have shifted to launch the WWE Network this fall as a premium pay-TV outlet, akin to the NFL Network, which airs live games and vintage programming from a vast library. WWE Network will share its revenues with carriers, and executives believe it will need just 1 million subscribers to break even. Given that WWE already produces 12 pay-per-view events per year, priced as high as $60 each, and that it generated more than 4 million buys for those events, the wisdom is that fans will pay $15-per-month to subscribe.
The network will be the home of most of WWE’s current PPV events, except for its biggest, WrestleMania, which will remain a per-view buy, though in a recent call with analysts, WWE’s chief financial officer George Barrios said he thinks that eventually, “pay-per-view does go away.”
The premium model looks especially attractive in overseas territories like Canada and Mexico. During the company’s fourth quarter earnings call in February, company topper Vince McMahon extolled the virtues of an international approach.
“Although we did not announce the launch of a domestic television network during the year, we believe, now more than ever, that we can realize the full value of our intellectual property using a variety of approaches in our global markets,” McMahon said. “Our confidence is based on the rising value of content and the tremendous global appeal of our brands.”
WWE plans to continue to air its current shows on USA, Syfy, Ion and the CW, and not pull its current lineup from those channels. The addition of shows, even on lower-proile nets like CW and Ion, expanded WWE’s overall TV reach by 35%.
“We started on (basic tier) TV,” said Michelle Wilson, chief marketing officer of WWE. “It’s where our bread is buttered.”