During a Wednesday night press conference, the WWE announced the impending launch of the WWE Network – an online streaming service comparable to the recently-launched UFC Fight Pass. But the WWE's service immediately appears to stand out from every other online streaming service, simply because of how vast the company's library is.
WWE Network will launch on February 24th and run $9.99 per month (with a six-month commitment), and immediately include live streams of each of WWE's 12 yearly pay-per-view events – including WrestleMania, which typically runs $70 for the HD broadcast on cable. That part of the deal immediately makes subscribing worthwhile – even if you don't watch the PPVs every month. Subscribers will be getting a huge discount every month, and that doesn't even begin to consider the other parts of the network.
In addition to the PPVs, WWE Network will have original programming, like pre and post-show events for Raw and Smackdown, and will also include access to the WWE's mammoth library of old events, including all WWE, WCW, and ECW PPV events. Raw and Smackdown will not be streamed live, though encores will be available. There's also no immediate word on the streaming archive for shows like Raw, Smackdown, Nitro, Thunder, and various other TV shows throughout the years.
Because the network hasn't launched yet, there are more questions than answers right now about WWE Network. The network's launch is in six and a half weeks, and I'm sure more details will leak out heading up to that point. Unlike the UFC, which launched their Fight Pass service immediately and is offering it free for two months, WWE is building anticipation for their network and only will be offering a one-week free trial once it launches.
I don't think it's necessarily fair to directly compare the two digital networks, simply because of how much more content the WWE produces on a yearly basis. If the UFC holds 50 live events this year, that's what, 250 hours worth of content? WWE produces nearly twice that much per year when you consider their numerous weekly TV programs and monthly PPV events.
Bypassing satellite and cable distributors and going "over the top" straight to the consumer ala Netflix or Hulu is a bold strategy from WWE. If it works, it may move sports leagues to consider more online streaming options for sports rights deals as Google and Apple have long been rumored to enter the fray and compete with the likes of ESPN, Fox, and DirecTV.
WWE's venture is supported by MLB Advanced Media, who pretty much mastered the online streaming genre with MLB.tv, which runs $120 for the season… or $10 a month when you consider you get archived access during the offseason as well as live action during the season. Any other streaming service that is going to be running above the $10 per month pricepoint is going to have issues going forward, especially if archived content isn't available. WWE and UFC making their full libraries available with their respective digital networks will be a game-changer, and could spur other sports organizations to do the same thing.