Monday, March 3, 2014

The WWE Network: A Solid B+

Last week, to much fanfare, the WWE Network launched. After years of speculation and discussion and negotiation, WWE chose to, instead of going through cable providers, offer a paired streaming online service with an on-demand library of content from their archives. It was widely hailed as a good move for everyone involved, they signed on with the MLB Network for streaming backbone, and all seemed to be well.

After a week of having it, and being able to play with it for a few days after the bandwidth and login issues got settled, it's good to know that the network is pretty much awesome, even if it has room for improvement.

The Good: The best part of the whole thing is really the video library. At launch, they were able to have nearly every pay-per-view that WWE/F, ECW, and WCW ever did available. That's pretty ridiculous on its own. There are also a number of old full-length episodes of the weekly shows, and they're already in the process of getting even more uploaded. This doesn't even count a lot of the territorial tapes they have in the archive, any of the old Saturday morning shows I grew up watching, and so on. Plus, they already have a lot of the stuff they previously had loaded on their website available to watch if you know how to find it. It's really impressive.

The greatest thing about having the video library, however, is that there is a VERY easy to use search option. If I want to look up anything they have for CM Punk, I just enter his name into the search. Want to see who else besides the Iron Sheik uses the Camel Clutch? I can search by wrestling move. Man, what? Best part? An example: Kane, who is one of the more beloved characters of the last few decades, had an absolutely tragic gimmick prior to Kane as a demented dentist. You can even search that old gimmick (Isaac Yankem if you're interested) and bring up videos related to him. It's really arguably the best part of the whole thing.

I haven't spent a ton of time with the 24/7 live programming. This is where the pay-per-views come in, as they will be showing the PPVs live through this stream as they happen. They did a test run of sorts with NXT Arrival on Thursday, and the first major event is Wrestlemania. This is where the value comes in, as a PPV costs between $45-65 USD for each one, and they run 12-13 a year. The Network, at under $10/month, gets you a year of PPVs basically for the cost of two. Plus all the on demand stuff. Plus whatever else they add. That alone makes it worth a few months to pay for it and try it out, at the very least.

The Not-So-Good: Criticizing the Network, given everything else, feels wrong. Yes, they had a rocky first couple days, but I think we've come to expect/accept that from any high-profile cloud/streaming launch. Yes, XBox login still doesn't work. That's not really the issue, and a lot of it is ultimately somewhat nitpicky and some can't be controlled.

Second part first, the idea that you cannot get the archive of Raw or Smackdown immediately following the airing is a little frustrating, but not unexpected. The current television contracts have replay rights, and that's entirely sensible. Hopefully the new contract deals with that.

The search function isn't perfect. Trying to find certain wrestlers based on spelling differences between the WWE archives and common ways of dealing with it doesn't always work. The Network might not even have any 1-2-3 Kid stuff up yet, but even searching for other wrestlers that are listed (such as Undertaker's early gimmick, "Mean Mark Callous") at least shows a result in the search even if there's nothing in the archive.

A cool feature of the on demand is that you can actually jump from match to match in the archive. So if I pull up, say, the most recent Royal Rumble, there are tags for each match that I can cycle through and find in an instant. What's interesting/frustrating, however, is that all the tabs happen where the match basically begins. Not during entrances, not during any relevant pre-match stuff. I might find later that those things are basically irrelevant, but sometimes getting a gauge of the crowd helps set the tone a bit.

Overall, I'm very happy with the Network. I'm hoping to see a lot more stuff pour onto the service, and, even if it stopped at where it is today, the pay-per-views are a value alone. Overall, if it hasn't reached your country yet, definitely get ready to shell out some cash for this, as it will be worth it for the nostalgia kick and beyond.

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