Last month's launch of the WWE Network has generated a ton of buzz. Supporters think that by cutting out the TV middlemen, World Wrestling Entertainment's (NYSE:WWE) new streaming video channel will usher in a new era of sports viewing. I, however, believe the service will ultimately fail. Here's why.
1. A version of it has flopped before
The WWE Network has three main components: All 12 annual WWE pay-per-view (PPV) events, original reality shows and documentaries, and an on-demand library with over 1,500 hours of archived footage. Regarding the latter, WWE already packaged on-demand content on its now-defunct WWE 24/7 channel. The last reported worldwide subscriber numbers totaled just 115,000.
As Sean O'Leary wrote recently, the PPV component is attractive to many wrestling enthusiasts, but as for the archived footage, "the casual fan will likely have no interest." Limited viewership of WWE 24/7 has already proven that.
How many subscribers does the WWE Network need? Most sources cite somewhere near 1 million as a break even, something the company told Variety in January. As fellow Fool Daniel Kline points out, WWE made a little over $83 million from PPV revenues in 2012. He writes, "if we assume ... $7.50 [net] per customer per month ... at 1 million customers, the company will be taking in $90 million a year," surpassing the break even point.
3. Another hurdle remains
There's one more issue that could derail the network: technical problems. As Ringside Chicago reports, "server overloads, streaming issues, missing pay per views, censored content, and log-in issues have been just a few of the hiccups that subscribers have had to deal with." WWE issued a statement last week, saying they're working "aggressively" on a fix, but as of this writing, complaints continue to file in.
WWE's decision to launch the network in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 30, on April 6, is a smart one, but it could backfire. If outages affect any portion of next month's event, some fans could permanently lose faith. Ditching TV for streaming video makes sense if it's cheaper, but connectivity problems might cause this advantage to evaporate.
Professional wrestling is still one of the most popular sports in America, and after nearly three years of waiting, WWE's new network is finally here. As a streaming video service, its aim is ambitious, but ultimately flawed.
WWE 24/7 already proved the average fan doesn't care about on-demand archived footage, no matter how many thousands of hours are offered. And unless the company can unveil a reality show that's significantly more entertaining (and able to draw better ratings) than "Legends House" or "Tough Enough," I doubt many will jump in solely for the original programming either.
That leaves the network reliant on signups related to its 12 annual PPV events, including WrestleMania. The company's most watched event is in a little over a month, and if technical issues affect its first-ever broadcast on the WWE Network, public sentiment could turn negative quickly.
Even if these problems are fixed in time, it will only break even if the company convinces almost every WrestleMania buyer to jump on board. That's certainly a possibility, but ultimately a long shot considering the network is limited to users who want to watch wrestling on technology beyond a traditional TV.
To read Dan's take on why the WWE Network will actually be a winner, click here.