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The WWE Network is Kayfabe Incarnate

Like a lot of young males in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, I was an avid fan of all things professional wrestling and still am. I talked about it often, put submission moves on my friends daily, and wanted to grow up to one day stomp a mud hole in someone’s chest within the squared circle. Alas, a child’s dreams are easily dashed by reality (an early neck injury doesn’t help) and I went through my teenage years powerbombing people on a trampoline instead.

Wrestling ties run deep in my family; from grandparents yelling at the TV on a weekly basis to my great uncle George Scott who tag teamed with his brother to form the Flying Scotts and eventually book the very first Wrestlemania under the WWF’s employ. So, it’s safe to say, I’ve been exposed to wrestling for as long as I can remember.

Obviously, when the WWE announced the WWE Network in 2011, I was thoroughly excited at the prospect of reliving the glory days of one of my favourite televised shows and possibly digging deeper into time periods I wasn’t alive to witness. Being able to watch the current weekly shows and PPV’s live online wouldn’t hurt either. Goodbye torrents, hello live events!

My excitement for the network came to a screeching halt when they exclusively launched it in the States this past summer and, more recently, cutting a deal with Rogers Canada to run the service wholly on their network as a subscription-based channel (When it comes to media, being Canadian sucks). No harm done. I’ll find another way. I tried circumventing the issue by masking my DNS and subscribing directly through the WWE website using a Paypal account to hide my Canadian address. You know what? It worked. Finally, with decades of content almost at my fingertips, I pulled the curtain back and waited for the cheer of the crowd. What I got instead were blank stares and silence. Enter Botchamania.

 

Let’s watch the botch: $9.99 edition

Let’s begin. The WWE Network is yours for? $9.99! That translates to just over $11 Canadian, folks. What value! Such savings! With a monthly PPV event knife edge chopping your wallet at $60, what’s not to like about that price? You get a PPV each month, their weekly TV programs, original content made exclusively for the network, and a backlog of DVD releases and documentaries.

That all sounds amazing, right? Well, sort of. Week after week, the WWE has been obnoxiously advertising their new product so much that the crowd will now chant and hold up signs with the price. Who said wrestling fans were stupid? The main point they always mention is the fact that each month you get a PPV for $10. That’s definitely value, but what about all the other content hidden behind it they’re not talking about? Simply put: It’s disappointing.

When I logged in for the first time, I was expecting a wrestling fan’s wet dream. I had this image built up that the clouds would part and the Legends of Wrestling would take my hand to Kayfabe Heaven. Instead, I met face to face with a jobber ready to work a dark match. I fumbled around the site looking at my options only to wrestling with the clumsy and unintuitive interface. All I wanted to do was navigate to the most recent RAW program to check its availability, which it wasn’t, and then move on to the backlog of PPVs and documentaries. After browsing for a few minutes, let’s just say I was expecting more. I honestly felt like I was navigating a site that took several chair shots to its front page and thrown from a steel cage. *cue Mick Foley’s toothy grin*

 

Botched Spot #1: Not so up-to-date programming

Did you miss last night’s RAW or Smackdown? Tough! You need to wait 30 days after the show’s original air date before the encore is available on the network. Why? Probably due to contractual obligations with the USA Network and Syfy, but, come on now, why should a paying customer need to wait?

Watching the shows “live” on television is free (and a chore sometimes), but I can’t be bothered to own cable anymore, so my options are limited. Torrents are my saving grace and I can watch a three-hour episode in 25 minutes because, honestly, there’s way too much garbage filling the shows. You know, like wrestlers in animal costumes, guest celebrity segments promoting Subway, any time John Cena has a microphone…

 

Botched Spot #2: The forgotten glory days

This one is totally my fault, because like I hinted earlier, my vision of the content was probably completely unrealistic to begin with. However, the general consensus I’ve gathered from talking with people about the network’s potential has been one of nostalgia. Re-living the golden age of wrestling or the Attitude Era would be worth the price of admission. I would honestly enjoy re-watching the past more so than the present. That stuff is solidified in stone and built the foundation for the subpar PG product we have today.

To my surprise, I’m not totally delusional. It was announced that this would be a key feature. The word on the wind is “soon”, six months or so after its official launch. Well, the service launched on February 24, 2014 in the U.S, which puts us one month over that mark as of this article’s publication date. “Soon” has become “eventually”. I know it’s a lot of work to put thousands of shows online, but that doesn’t sound very promising, does it?

There are past shows available, but there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s there. One section has about 30 episodes between 1987 and 2013. Does that sound comprehensive? None of the episodes have titles or descriptions either, making it next to impossible to find something you might want to watch unless you remember the exact day it happened.

There are a fair amount of PPVs (perhaps all of them), but I lost interest wading through the poorly presented interface. There is content available, just not what we were all hoping for. This is why the WWE is marketing the service the way they are. You save money on PPVs and the rest should be pyro on the entrance ramp.

 

Botched Spot #3: Not the highlight reel you’re looking for

Which leads me to the next issue: The content that’s available has been edited. Some of the classic matches cut out before they finish. Other videos start a minute or two into the match. They’re not always posting an entire episode. Since it’s all random footage, I would have liked to see the promos leading up to the edited match in previous episodes. YouTube illegally trumps the network in this regard.

The WWE hasn’t been too forward with what they’re doing with their service and that’s something that doesn’t fly with me. I like transparency. They’ve made promises they’re not delivering on and continue to tout their service as a must have product. So, what do they think they’re doing? The next time Hulk Hogan spends 10 minutes mumbling how amazing the WWE Network is for a payday, let Brock Lesnar come out and F5 his ketchup and mustard ass back to Wrestlemania III. I don’t want to hear it anymore, brother.

 

Botched Spot #4: The hit and miss original programming

I will give the WWE credit for releasing original and exclusive content. I really enjoyed Legends House and the WWE Countdown top 10 lists. The only other show of interest is the Monday Night War that details…the Monday Night War between the WWE and WCW, duh. We’ve heard that story a million times already, but this series tells it in much greater detail than ever before.

Other than that, everything else available I would scrap, especially Total Divas (which was added only recently). A TV show about people living their life (which may be *gasp* scripted) isn’t anything a REAL man should be interested in. A real man’s interests should be with oily men imposing their underwear-wearing will on each other in a ring (Take that, MMA fans).

The content that’s currently available and the stuff that’s soon to come could be considered more bang for your buck, but I can’t see it sustaining itself forever. How many more reality shows will they come up with or cartoons based around a toy line they’re trying to sell? The WWE is focusing on being the Walmart of television programming and it’s hurting the overall product, in my opinion.

 

Botched Spot #5: Technical difficulties: Please stand by

I have all these PPVs, original programs and random shows to watch a few clicks away. That’s great and all, but I can’t be bothered to sit and watch them in one sitting. Sometimes I like to skim through them to get it over and done with, because let’s face it, wrestling can be downright boring when the card is booked poorly and there’s over 10 hours of programming to watch each week .

With that said, I was unhappy to discover a few things:

  1.       You can’t save your progress and resume from where you left off;
  2.       It’s impossible to precisely skim through a video;
  3.       The video player freezes randomly requiring a refresh; and
  4.       The playlist doesn’t suggest the next episode in a series.

These are really simple fixes, but I’m surprised they weren’t added in to begin with. It really makes the whole experience more annoying than it should be. I have to remember how far I watched something and meticulously click my way through the timeline to find that spot again. The video player even froze a few times, forcing me to refresh the entire page and FIND MY SPOT ALL OVER AGAIN. It’s pretty frustrating.

The whole suggested playlist system doesn’t even make sense either. It keeps suggesting the latest uploads instead of the next episode. That means you’re forced to navigate through the menus again to find the next episode on your own. I’ll let Ron Simmons take it from here.

 

What’s the bottom line?

I’ve met quite a few wrestlers, stood a few feet away from even more, but as big as they are on television, I can say they always felt human with all their real-world flaws and idiosyncrasies. The WWE Network feels just like that. The idea of what the network should be is larger-than-life and won’t break character. Once you peel the layers back on a gimmick, hailing from a place called “Parts Unknown” actually means Crawfordsville, Indiana. It’s all pyrotechnics and mirrors.

Wrestlers go through a lot trying to make a career out of wrestling. A lot burn out, some turn to drugs, others rarely see their family while on the road. The magic of television lets the WWE drape a sequined Macho Man cape over those bad bits to help us suspend disbelief. In its current state, that’s what the WWE Network is – some guy trying to make a buck by looking flashy.

I don’t like beta testing a product for a company when I’m paying for it, that’s the main problem here, but we seem to live in an age where content producers can get away with it. They release a bare bones platform and add to it over time to make it into the product it should have been at launch.

The WWE Network is occupying a weird space between “must buy” and “not right now.” The value is there, if you love watching the PPVs, but the total package is going to take some time before it’s Mr. Perfect approved (R.I.P). I think in a couple of years, once the WWE Network matures, it will be something every fan will want to subscribe to.

So, what’s the verdict? I won’t be resubscribing any time soon. Let’s not forget that Canadians need to be a Rogers Cable customer, incurring the fees associated with basic cable (At least $40 a month) on top of the network’s monthly fee, just to access the service. Even though I’m accessing the American version, that’s a deal breaker for me as a Canadian. Too many barriers, too many hoops. Maybe I’ll stick with 5 Dollar Wrestling.

Don’t like my views? Well…

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