WWE kicked off June with the launch of a free version of WWE Network, a streaming video subscription service. With the free version, wrestling fans can get their fill of new WWE shows, original series, weekly WWE highlights and select events. WWE Network, who launched their service early in the direct-to-consumer streaming video subscription game, is trying to reimagine its service to attract more viewers. The free version is available now by downloading the WWE app on devices including smartphones, gaming consoles, tablets, TVs and computers.
“The launch of WWE Network’s Free Version is a key component of our company’s digitization strategy and a new way for all fans to be able to experience premium WWE content,” said Jayar Donlan, WWE executive vice president of advanced media, in a June 1 announcement. “As we continue to reimagine WWE Network’s offering, the Free Version will serve as an effective way to reach a broader group of consumers and allow them to experience the history and spectacle of WWE.”
Viewers of the free version of WWE Network’s streaming video subscription service can access more than 15,000 hours of content including:
- New shows including Raw Talk which streams on Monday nights immediately following Raw
- Groundbreaking original series including Monday Night War, Ride Along, Table for 3, Photo Shoot and Story Time
- Recent episodes of WWE’s flagship programs Monday Night Raw, Friday Night SmackDown and NXT
- Select historical WWE pay-per-views and NXT TakeOver events
- Weekly WWE highlights, Top 10, WWE’s The Bump, WWE Now, The Best of WWE and WWE Timeline
WWE is having an interesting year. In February, the company reported its 2019 financials with revenue of $960.4 million, a company record. Media revenue for the fourth quarter increased 29%, and WWE Network’s average paid subscribers decreased 10% to approximately 1.42 million due to fewer new subscribers earlier in the year. At that time, the company estimated subscribers would increase to 1.47 million in the first quarter of 2020.
Fast forward two months and WWE was telling a very different story. On April 16, WWE chairman Vince McMahon announced that COVID-19 was having a significant impact on WWE business. The company would have to make major changes including significant layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions. Part of the reductions included “releasing” some of their most popular talent which caused quite a stir among fans. Among those let go are:
- Kurt Angle, Rusev (Miroslav Barnyashev)
- Drake Maverick (James Curtin)
- Zack Ryder (Matthew Cardona)
- Curt Hawkins (Brian Myers)
- Karl Anderson (Chad Allegra)
- Luke Gallows (Drew Hankinson)
- Heath Slater (Heath Miller)
- Eric Young (Jeremy Fritz)
- Rowan (Joseph Ruud)
- Sarah Logan (Sarah Rowe)
- No Way Jose (Levis Valenzuela)
- Mike Chioda
- Mike Kanellis (Mike Bennett)
- Maria Kanellis, EC3 (Michael Hutter)
- Aiden English (Matthew Rehwoldt)
- Lio Rush (Lionel Green)
- Primo (Edwin Colon)
- Epico (Orlando Colon Nieves
In addition to letting go of top talent, McMahon was under fire for some questionable business decisions made this spring including operating as an “essential business,” putting employees at risk from COVID-19 by airing live shows – Raw, Smackdown and NXT, McMahon filing for bankruptcy for the XFL and advising Trump on the economy, according to Deadspin.
In the company’s first quarter financial report released on April 23, the company reported revenue of $291.0 million, a 60% increase year-over-year, and net income of $26.2 million, compared to a loss of $8.4 million in the first quarter of 2018. Total subscribers were on target at 1.46 million, and viewership of WWE Wrestlemania (April 4-5) had record viewership with 967 million video views on digital and social platforms, a 20% increase year-over-year.
WWE launched the WWE Network in early 2014, one of the earliest streaming services, particularly in the niche category. By the end of the third quarter of 2014, WWE Network had attracted 731,000 paying subscribers, and it has taken six years to double that audience. Because it is such a niche subscription service with a huge fan base, it is surprising the streaming service has not done better in recent years. Last year, the streaming video subscription service switched to a new platform and that relaunch was quite rocky, likely turning off some fans.
This year is a whole different story for WWE, and it is hard to predict what will happen in the remaining quarters of the year. COVID-19 undoubtedly has impacted the company’s ability to host live events, but at the same time, it is drawing new viewers who are stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. The new version of WWE Network’s streaming video subscription service will certainly help attract new viewers, so this is a good time for the launch. The question is can WWE convert these new viewers into paying subscribers. If not, why not? Their strategy is not clear.