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Nov 22

Survivor Series 2014

Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

Survivor Series 2014 is an unusual pay-per-view, because to all intents and purposes it isn’t one.  You can order it on PPV if you really want to, but it’s being offered as the centrepiece of a free try-out month for the WWE Network, which the WWE is still bound and determined to get you to subscribe for, being pretty much committed to the idea by this point.  So it’s a freebie – no doubt explaining the ludicrously flimsy undercard.

That’s except for viewers in the UK, where the Network was announced as launching at the start of the month, only to be delayed without explanation at the last moment.  The story is apparently that they still haven’t managed to sort things out with BSkyB; the most recent contract did allow for the Network launching, but not until the originally scheduled date at the start of next year.  The WWE could have launched a UK version without the Sky-exclusive programming, but…

So here we are, with the UK being the only country in the world asked to pay full price for a free show.  Will anyone in the UK actually be watching this show legitimately?  It seems almost unimaginable.

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Oct 26

Hell in a Cell 2014

Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

The WWE are due to announce subscriber figures for the WWE Network again at the end of this month, so you might have thought that this show would have some sort of priority for them.  By all appearances from the card, it doesn’t – to the extent they have a direction going for the main event, it seems to be looking past this show to the next one.

The latest tactic to try and boost Network subscriber numbers is to roll it out internationally.  Intriguingly, it has yet to be made available in the UK (leaving aside the obvious methods that can be used to avoid regional limitations – and a potential nightmare scenario for the company is that it turns out that a large chunk of the potential international audience are already using them, so that the potential for further growth is much less than thought).  The WWE only recently signed a renewed multi-year deal with Sky, so it would be surprising if they hadn’t allowed for the proposed Network launch in its terms.  Another possibility is that they’re trying to launch it in the UK as an actual broadcast channel, something which has worked unexpectedly well in Canada.

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Sep 20

Night of Champions 2014

Posted on Saturday, September 20, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

This is what you might call a post dictated by the blog format.  I’ve not been closely following the build-up to this show (as you might imagine, there have been other things to occupy my attention over the last couple of weeks), nor do I have the faintest intention of watching it (since Chikara’s King of Trios shows are this weekend, and as Night 1 is already on VOD, I know that my wrestling-viewing hours for the week ahead are pretty much accounted for).

But let’s run down the card anyway.  Night of Champions notionally has the gimmick of every title being defended, which isn’t much of a gimmick, really – plenty of WWE shows have all the titles being defended.  Still, it’s something to say.  Of more interest this year is the fact that the WWE’s “WWE Network” streaming service launched around six months ago, so that the first batch of subscribers will be coming up for renewal around now.  In theory, that makes this an unusually important show, because it has to persuade people to re-sign.

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Aug 16

Summerslam 2014

Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

The actual content of the last few WWE shows has been overshadowed by the rather more pressing question of how the WWE Network is doing.  For those joining us late, or who are simply blog readers who don’t follow this wrestling stuff between monthly posts, let’s recap.

Since the 1990s the basic model of major wrestling promotions in the US has been monthly PPV promoted by weekly TV shows.  The WWE Network attempts to break that model, offering the same “PPV” shows on a Netflix-style streaming service, along with a substantial on-demand back catalogue and some genuinely desirable new material such as NXT, at a monthly price that vastly undercuts the PPV providers.  This makes the WWE an early adopter, in terms of being a reasonably substantial content provider trying to cut out the distributors entirely and sell directly to audiences.  Hence, the performance of the Network is – or ought to be – of interest beyond the wrestling bubble.

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Jul 20

Battleground 2014

Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2014 by Paul in Uncategorized, Wrestling

For the WWE right now, the unfortunate reality is that perhaps their most compelling storyline is “how is the WWE Network doing”, a question that certainly has shareholders on tenterhooks.  While the next subscriber number will be out shortly, the rather desperate tone of the on-air promotion gives the distinct impression that it’s not going to be spectacular.  It could yet turn out that effectively dumping PPV in favour of a subscription streaming service is a great move that was simply ahead of its time; but right now, it’s looking increasingly as if the WWE is learning the hard way what happens to early adopters who were a little too early.

In the meantime, we have a show this weekend, which will be somewhat of a time filler, because the next two shows are rather higher priorities – August is Summerslam, which is traditionally one of the biggest shows of the year, and September has to hook the people who subscribed for Wrestlemania and will be coming up for their six month renewal.  That said, the card is not without its interest; while there may not be much going on in story terms, it has plenty of potential to be a strong show in the ring.  You’ll note the near-total lack of gimmickry on this show, which tends to suggest that they’re saving all that stuff for Summerslam.

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Jun 29

Money in the Bank 2014

Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

Check out the posts below for our Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus thingy, and for this week’s podcast season finale!  Meantime, though, I’ve got a PPV to cover…

Money in the Bank has wound up an interesting pay-per-view (a term I’ll keep using for want of anything better, even though most US viewers will probably be WWE network subscribers) more by accident than design.  This is the show built around the annual Money in the Bank Ladder Match, in which the winner gets the right to challenge for the world title whenever they want in the next year.  Since “whenever they want” is treated as many “on any show, without having to give any notice”, it’s effectively a licence to ambush the champion and practically guarantees winning the title.  A couple of people have failed, but it’s still a pretty reliable indication that somebody is destined for the main event.

But WWE Champion Daniel Bryan is out with neck surgery.  The original idea was that he’d be back in time to wrestle on this show, so the company stalled on last month’s show and ran a bunch of angles with the idea that he’d resist the Authority’s attempts to pressurise him to surrender the title.  Then it turned out he wouldn’t be able to wrestle on this show either, so they did a screeching U-turn and stripped him of the title after all.

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May 24

Chikara S14.1: You Only Live Twice

Posted on Saturday, May 24, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

We’ve done a couple of previous posts about the Chikara indie promotion, which spent much of 2013 pursuing a remarkably audacious storyline in which the company itself closed down, and storylines were carried on through a mixture of micro-indie shows, social media, ARGs, and even a film.  With the company now about to run its first official show in almost a year, this seems a good time to check in on them.

For those of you who read the WWE posts, Chikara are an interesting contrast.  For one thing, there’s no equivalent of Raw or Smackdown; promotion between shows consists primarily of promos and recap videos on YouTube (and, in the past, blog posts on their website; no doubt we’ll see more of that in future).  This changes the dynamic quite a bit; it means there’s more incentive for every match to count (both in storyline and in-ring terms), and no need to cycle through matches to fill hours of weekly television.

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May 4

Extreme Rules 2014

Posted on Sunday, May 4, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

For American viewers, we now seem to be firmly in the post-PPV era.  The WWE’s website may still list these shows under the heading of “pay-per-views”, but American viewers can get them far more cheaply by subscribing to the Netflix-style “WWE Network”.  Would you rather pay $40 just for this show, or subscribe to the whole network for six months at $10 a month?  The answer ought to be obvious.  Conventional PPV providers are predictably enraged, and the satellite companies (though not the cable ones) have responded by refusing to carry the show at all.  If that seems like an odd decision, since any orders are better than none, then bear in mind if they allow WWE to act like this, they encourage other PPV providers to follow suit.

Initial Network subscription numbers are at the low end of expectations (and certainly at the low end of announced expectations, which always seemed very bullish).  One theory is that if you didn’t subscribe for Wrestlemania, you certainly won’t be subscribing for a C-level show like this.  Another way of looking at it is that a large chunk of the audience just doesn’t feel comfortable with streaming yet, especially as they haven’t done a particularly great job of promoting all the devices that can access the show.  If that’s the position, then the satellite companies’ stance may just encourage more people to take a second look at the Network.

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Apr 6

Wrestlemania XXX

Posted on Sunday, April 6, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

We have a podcast this weekend – that’s just one post down.  And as Al reminds you there, don’t forget to get tickets for our live recording on May 31!

Onwards…  The WWE’s biggest show of the year is coming from New Orleans this year.  If you only buy one wrestling PPV a year, it’s probably this one – although this year things are complicated by its inclusion in the Netflix-style “WWE Network” service, where the cost of a six month subscription compares quite favourably with the cost of buying just this one show.  So if you’re buying this as a PPV in 2014, either you don’t have good enough broadband to access the Network, or you haven’t heard of the Network, or you live abroad.

Or you don’t trust the Network, because it’s not been without its teething issues, and plainly this is going to be its biggest test to date.  Given that they had some buffering problems on NXT arRival (yes, that’s how it was capitalised), you have to wonder.  With the Network clearly positioned as the replacement for PPV in the company’s business model, it’s entirely possible that the big story everyone will be talking about on Monday won’t be the wrestling at all, but the tech issues.

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Feb 22

Elimination Chamber 2014

Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 by Paul in Wrestling

Elimination Chamber is an unusual show, more for what’s going on in the wider business than for the actual card.  On Monday, the WWE launches its online streaming service, WWE Network, which will offer all the future “pay-per-views” as part of the subscription – a subscription which massively undercuts the cost of actually buying them as PPVs.  Subscribers will also get access to a substantial video-on-demand library, plus some original programming (though the only notable inclusion is the developmental show NXT, which is genuinely quite good these days).  This is all for viewers in the US, by the way; the international launch isn’t for a while yet.

In effect, the WWE is abandoning the PPV platform, and these shows will become monthly specials designed to draw new viewers to the Network.  In practice, anyone who’s remotely interested in the Network is likely to sign up in advance of Wrestlemania next month, and in the short term the company’s main revenue source is likely to be rights fees from TV contracts (which, incidentally, are all coming for renegotiation right now) – so there’s going to be an interesting tension between grabbing the ratings and steering people to the Network.

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