WWE Continues To Impress As It Faces Brutal Opponent
The WWE truly is one of the most resilient brands in American entertainment. Every time it looks to be headed for a prolonged decline, it meets the challenge. Steroid allegations, the rise of the UFC, questions about how many more interesting storylines it can manufacture? Nothing seems to stop it.
Now, comes an indication another generation of fans will be there. Saban Brands has turned to the WWE to “anchor” a refashioned Saturday morning kids’ block on the CW later this month. “WWE Saturday Morning Slam” will air at 10 a.m., sandwiched between long-time superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) and an anime series.
That comes as a new deal will bring a show to the ION network in October and another hour of programming has been added to "Raw" on USA, one of the highest-rated cable networks thanks in part to WWE. WWE also continues to churn out original short-form stuff for YouTube and it seems hip to the possibilities of social media.
Why the continued fascination? Fans, sociologists, TV executives and a would-be U.S. Senator probably all have different takes. Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon is running again to represent Connecticut in Washington (she lost in 2010) with her WWE success as a credential, so that might be a fun debate question.
So, as WWE continues to impress with networks grabbing more of its content, the company may astound if it successfully launches a long-touted cable network. Reason being, that would mean it has succeeded in hand-to-hand combat with one of the toughest opponents it will ever face: cable operators.
The WWE Network seems to be on continual delay, with the WWE offering few details, while continuing to promise announcements are coming. Earlier this month, founder Vince McMahon indicated big news is coming soon.
The company has invested millions of dollars in staff and other expenditures. And, it has some slick promotional videos.
It appears to have a vision for programming. Besides live matches, it has a library of 30,000 hours of content and seems to understand that while Andre the Giant is one athlete it’s hard to turn away from, just running past events won't be enough.
“We’re creating fresh new content around that,” WWE George Barrios said on a conference call.
Of course, every cable network needs a reality series with people living together. And the WWE Network has “Legends’ House” with past WWE luminaries living together. What the hook will be is unclear. Presumably, the all-time greats are too old to reprise past roles. Maybe they can arm wrestle?
Barrios dropped one alluring hint about a show in development that sounds alluring. Just about anything with Ted Turner is.
“One of the kind of coolest time periods in WWE’s history was the real-life battle between WWE and WCW back in the 90’s and the business battles between Vince McMahon and Ted Turner,” Barrios said. “We’ve developed a really compelling series around that, called the ‘Monday Night Wars,’ that my guess will be on the WWE Network and it's programming like that, real original compelling content that’ll be on there.”
So, if it’s all systems go (or close) at the WWE, it would seem the biggest hold-up is what it always now in getting a cable network going: distribution. And, that means dealing with cable, satellite and telco TV operators, which are exceedingly unwilling to take on new networks.
If WWE content is already on USA, Syfy and Ion, is there a need for a standalone network? That would seem to be a hard sell. DirecTV, which seemingly used to warm to every new venture, now has a CEO in Mike White questioning the value of adding new ones, including the Pac-12 network suite.
Barrios said WWE is considering its options from a traditional cable network that would appear on various tiers to a pay-TV venture to an over-the-top move.
“I think they all have plusses and minuses and we continue to have discussions both internally and externally on all of those,” he said. “That’s all we can say at this point.”
The operators would seem to be the ones who will do the talking. Don't count out the WWE, though. It's done a lot of winning.