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WWE RE-EVALUATING ORIGINAL CONTENT FOR WWE NETWORK, ARE BACK IN PLANNING MODE FOR A TIERED NETWORK LAUNCH

By Mike Johnson on 2018-10-01 14:46:00

Now that WWE has locked in their television future in the United States for the next five years, they are looking inward.

PWInsider.com can exclusively confirm that there are big changes being planned for the WWE Network with the idea of implementing them (as the current plan goes) in 2019.  We are told that Vince McMahon is said to be personally overseeing the process and is working on a one-on-one basis with both Kevin Dunn and the company's Chief of Staff Brad Blum on ways to tweak the company's strategies for original programming, to finally shape the long planned tiered version of the WWE Network and bring other interactive aspects to the streaming service, which first launched in February 2014.

WWE has long planned to morph the WWE Network into a tiered subscription service, similar to what Hulu has now, where you can pay extra for commercial-free programming.  In 2016, WWE began toying with a tiered service that could feature the following potential pricing and content offerings:

2016's Plan One - FREE, featuring five hours of archived material, five minute video clips, and a 24/7 live stream that would feature WWE content without PPVs, NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic. The idea would be that this would be a free service, featuring commercials, that would be available to watch on all devices. Think Hulu's free content without a subscription.

2016's Plan Two - Priced $4.99 a month would feature the WWE Network as it currently exists, with the exception of NXT and its Takeover specials, would feature limited commercials and access to only the "Big Four" WWE PPV events.  The tier would also feature a VOD proponent that would add all new WWE "live events" (assuming this would mean Raw, Smackdown, etc.) 30 days after they air. This content would only be available for those watching via phones and tablets.

2016's Plan Three -  Priced at the still-current WWE Network price of $9.99 would offer the WWE Network as it currently exists, except WWE NXT would air live every week (similar to how Raw and Smackdown currently air).  This would also have limited commercials.

2016's Plan Four  - Priced at $14.99, this version would feature a commercial free version of the WWE Network with all the current bells and whistles, a live version of NXT, a weekly Cruiserweight Classic series, and "access to independent wrestling content such as TNA & Ring of Honor" plus additional "Fan Perks" including early ticket ordering access, the right to vote in the WWE Hall of Famer, "offline" content download, small group online chats, exclusive second screen content and invites to exclusive in-person VIP meet-ups.

In 2017, WWE also tested feedback to the idea of adding new, original programming as part of a premium priced tier that would have included WWE house shows, tournaments exclusive to the tier from different regions (think UK, Mexico, Canada, etc.) "regional independent wrestling promotions", an audio area that would provide sports-radio style call-in shows and WWE-related music and podcasts, potential programming that would be edgy and rated TV-14 (including teases of yet another ECW relaunch) and original WWE dramas (described in 2017 as WWE’s version of Game of Thrones) and comedies, including Southpaw Regional Wrestling and Roasts of talents.

Most interestingly given their recent meeting, the survey last year also floated the idea of carrying Impact Wrestling.  As we broke last month, WWE and Impact officials met recently in Stamford, CT with Impact sources denying the meeting was regarding WWE purchasing their company or video library.  Whether the meeting consisted of discussion of WWE licensing their content is a question that has gone unanswered.    Obviously, Impact has lots of current TV deals that would prevent their current, weekly series from appearing on the WWE Network, but older content from their video library would be most likely free and clear legally if Anthem wanted to license it.

PWInsider.com has also learned that the company is looking at the idea of acquiring other video libraries, something they had backed off on in recent years. 

WWE already has rights to the video libraries for PROGRESS and Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW, which could easily fit the aforementioned TV-14 programming) in Europe but has yet to utilize them in any major, meaningful way.   One would think that whatever plans there are to include other promotions on the potential tiered system would include the WWN library and specifically the EVOLVE promotion, which has helped to groom a number of talents for the company, including, most recently, NXT signees Matt Riddle and Keith Lee.  

Over the last few years, WWE has also toyed with additional services being added to the WWE Network to make it an even more interactive product, including providing breaking news to subscribers first, offering merchandise, early ticket sale passwords and other perks that have been discussed.  If they move forward with them, those offerings would be very similar to DC Universe Online, a new streaming service that launched last month focused on the DC Comic universe of superhero characters, offering exclusive merchandise, giveaways, a message board community and other options that WWE has yet to dive into. 

While internal plans change all the time within the company, we are told the hope is to lock in future WWE Network strategies within the next month or so (if not sooner) and finally officially implement them in early 2019, which would be around the fifth anniversary of the streaming service's debut.

As you might imagine, WWE has also put a lot of time and effort into mapping out the future of original programming on the service.  PWInsider.com has been told that all existing, announced programming will likely move forward as planned but beyond that, the door is wide open for other types of programming to debut on the Network and everything that falls under original programming is something of a review period to determine its future on the Network.   

WWE has been taking fan feedback on original programming possibilities for some time via fan surveys.    Earlier this year, they sought feedback on the following potential future WWE Network programming concepts, including:

WWE Now LIVE! – A live morning show featuring the WWE-centric topics and news.  PWInsider.com has been told this is very much in the mix for the future of the Network.

The History of FCW – A documentary style look at Florida Championship Wrestling, which preceeded WWE NXT as a developmental house for WWE talents.

Documentaries focusing specifically on stars, including The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels and more.

Superstar / Superfan – WWE talents discuss their time as fans of the business and how it led them to WWE.

Xavier’s Arcade Challenge – Xavier Woods takes his love of retro gaming to the finest “Bar / Arcades” in the country and challenges the WWE Universe in one-on-one competition!  Pilot material for this has been filmed by the company.

WWE Cheat Day with Becky Lynch – Following WWE stars as they eat on their cheat day.

Fashion Police / Unsolved Mysteries – Tyler Breeze and Fandango attempt to crack the case of numerous unsolved mysteries of WWE.

House Hardy: Halloween special – "Go inside the WONDERFUL world of the Hardy family in this delightful short form scripted sitcom, featuring
Matt and Jeff Hardy!"   WWE is currently filming this as a pilot.

The survey last month also sought feedback on whether WWE Network subscribers would be interested in watching more Network specials, the NXT UK brand, seeing the WWE NXT TV series go live weekly and whether WWE airing live events without storylines or commentary would be something the viewers would want to watch.

There is no word whether WWE is seeking to bring back abandoned concepts, such as the filmed but never seen R-Truth game show pilot or the unfilmed the Big Show and his wife cooking show concept, but one would think everything is back on the drawing board as the company maps out their plans.  We are told the company is still intending on seeking additional fan feedback to different ideas.

So, if you've been waiting to see when the new evolution of the WWE Network could come about, the plans are already in motion, which means they are, as always, subject to change at the whim of WWE management.  Once they are indeed satisfied with their chosen direction, we'll start to see some official announcements pop up and then, if all goes well, some implementation next year.

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