For UK fans, the highly anticipated WWE Network was set to be launched on Monday, eight months after the US release and a further month after its original UK launch date. However just twenty minutes before it’s scheduled 8pm release, WWE posted on their website and via their social media channels that the video on-demand service has been delayed until “further notice.” Twitter especially was full with angry UK fans who, after being disappointed previously, felt let down again by the WWE.
Reports continue to circulate that Sky; who own the rights to broadcast all of WWE’s programming and pay-per-views in the UK and Ireland were behind the delay as they have recently renewed their partnership until 2019, which arguably the Network may disrupt. A rumoured legal challenge or injunction as well as possible continued negotiation are the reasons behind this latest delay. Although a Sky employee stated on their message boards they had no part in the delay, there has been no official confirmation from either party.
But can Sky and Sky Sports work in tandem with the WWE Network or will the on-demand service disrupt Sky’s coverage and possibly take viewers?
If the WWE Network rolls out in the UK the same way it has in the States, the Network will be a supplementary service to the cable provider where the viewership would still watch Raw, Smackdown and NXT via Sky Sports but will have the option to watch the monthly pay-per-views including WrestleMania via the WWE Network not Sky Box Office, but with it still available on the latter. Along with this it would include the weekly show Main Event in addition to content made especially for the Network like Legends House, WWE Countdown and topical specials, as well as every single WWF/E, WCW and ECW pay-per-view and archive footage available to watch at anytime.
All of this is available for $9.99 a month and now without any commitment. For UK fans the price is not converted into pounds meaning you only pay around £6, with no additional payment to watch the pay-per-views. Therefore why would a fan watch a pay-per-view like Survivor Series or Royal Rumble or even WrestleMania for $14.95 on Sky Box Office when they can watch it on the WWE Network for less than half of that, and with all the extra content?
From this angle the on-demand service seems like a killer to the conventional service offered by Sky. However to keep their TV audience and to not force every fan to the Network but mainly to keep TV rights holders like Sky happy, their live weekly shows Raw and Smackdown are only available on a month delay meaning to see the latest edition of the show, you need Sky Sports.
But with the announcement that the Network’s release was imminent in the United Kingdom, an incentive was added making the month of November including it’s pay-per-view Survivor Series completely free to all new subscribers, which probably added to salt to the wounds of Sky. To add insult to injury, during negotiations to keep WWE on Sky, new kids on the block BT Sport threw their hat into the ring meaning Sky paid over the odds to retain the broadcast rights which certainly hasn’t helped, so could you blame Sky if they did block the Network’s intended release?
One of the possible alternatives to the WWE Network in the UK, which is currently deployed in Canada is making a WWE channel on TV. This would mean like Sky have done with their Formula 1 coverage, there will be a linear SkySportsWWE channel.
Whether this channel is the current plan and how it would operate is still unknown as is whether it would be separate from your Sky Sports subscription which is incredibly expensive, especially if you don’t follow football or rugby for example just wrestling. However it is obvious Sky would be pushing this plan as they would maintain their position and the profits in the UK market with the addition of new programming and bonus material. However in this incarnation Sky cannot completely offer what the Network can. With over 100,000 hours of footage from the territory days, old broadcasts and every pay-per-view from the three major corporations, available whenever you want, Sky cannot give this either as a part of their linear channel, or amongst their Sky Go or on-demand service which is strapped of wrestling content already.
In the same token, a stripped down version of the WWE Network especially for UK users would not please the majority of UK fans as it would be a mere shadow of the “Over The Top” service that was announced at CES 2014 by the McMahons and legends like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels among others.
So what’s the answer? Most fans and the WWE would hope that once all issues are solved, the WWE Network launches in its current form in the United Kingdom. For WWE, the UK is their second largest market and the sign-up of UK fans to the Network could help turn the tides of their on-demand service, which has seen lower than expected subscribers in the United States. The manifest destiny of the WWE Network is for traffic to organically move from the cable providers to solely onto the Network, where in the future WWE will aim to move all of it programming so they can be in control of their distribution, timetabling among other elements but their profits most importantly.
The most logical answer is for the Network to launch, although it will not please Sky. However at least Sky will still have a large part of WWE to entice their audience and the live weekly programming unavailable on the Network, in addition to maintaining pay-per-views for members of the UK WWE Universe who do not wish to sign up to the Network.
However promoting something that wasn’t a certain or while conversations were still taking place to then cancel the launch in the eleventh hour is certainly a reckless move and not one expected from a billion dollar company. When good results were needed to make the service a success, upsetting consumers again to an extent where many have become disenchanted with the product and have taken the decision to not sign-up when it does come, with some even washing their hands completely, is a disaster.
Only time will tell as to if and when the WWE Network is launched in the UK market or as in Canada, it is adapted into the Sky Sports lineup as a channel. One would have hoped that if Sky is behind the blocking of the service, that the conversations would have happened then rather than now, making Sky fully aware of what the Network was all about and how it would fit into their programming and their end of the deal.
WWE’s Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon recorded a short message for the official WWE website, in which he apologised to the UK fans and promised that the on-demand video service will be “well worth the wait.”
“On behalf of WWE, I want to personally apologise for the delayed launch of the WWE Network here in the United Kingdom,” he said.
“There’s no-one more important than each and every one of you in the WWE Universe, especially here in the United Kingdom, where we’ve shared so many great memories together. We appreciate your patience as we work through the details, and the roll-out and potential partnerships.”
“I assure you that we are working day and night to launch WWE Network as quickly as possible, and I promise that WWE Network will be well worth the wait. Again, thank you for your understanding.”