When World Wrestling Entertainment launched its WWE Network in 2014, the SVoD service only featured around 1,500 hours of on-demand content. Today, its library has over 10,000 hours of content, increasing 6x in size since launch, according to a report by Streaming Observer.
The WWE Network began by streaming PPV events to subscribers for no additional fees as well as repeats of Raw, SmackDown, and older footage from past events. Giving away its costly PPV events to those with a cheap $9.99 monthly plan was a move many criticised at the time, saying the company had signed its own “death warrant” by throwing away that revenue (WWE’s PPVs used to cost around $55 to order).
Despite hosting a good deal of exclusive content aimed at hardcore wrestling fans and offering a huge discount on its marquee events, the WWE Network failed to bring in its initial goal of 1 million subscribers in its opening months, causing its stock to immediately plummet. Even in light of its disappointing start, the WWE Network kept expanding its international availability and adding more content. By early 2015, the all-wrestling streaming service finally hit its 1 million subscriber mark.
Today the WWE Network boasts well over 1.8 million subscribers in 186 countries and has increased the size of its streaming library to feature over 10,000 hours of content, sending WWE stock soaring.
How did the WWE Network find so much success in a relatively unexplored niche of the streaming world?
For one, the WWE did extensive research in understanding what its audience wanted in a streaming service. Shortly before its launch, the WWE sent out an email survey to fans asking what they would want to see on a WWE streaming service. They’ve continued to survey their subscribers at least annually ever since.
In response to the surveys, the WWE Network began filling its content library with classics from other wrestling promotions whose catalogues it has rights to, like World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and others.
In addition, the WWE Network went the Netflix route and started creating more original programming, including WWE movies and documentaries, WWE talk shows, various WWE stars’ podcasts, exclusive collections of footage from WWE legends past and present, and archival footage from classic WWE events dating back nearly 40 years. Even Swerved, the hidden camera prank show featuring WWE performers can be streamed on the WWE Network.
The WWE Network also features programmes such as its hugely-successful NXT developmental brand, WWE Ride Along, WWE Story Time, and even an animated series featuring Seth Green.
Thanks to the success of WWE Network programming, WWE Revenues have increased 31 per cent in the second quarter of 2018 alone, along with a 10 per cent increase in paid subscribers to WWE Network in the same period.
WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon is undoubtedly one of the shrewdest businessmen and promoters in the world, and he jumped into the streaming market at precisely the right time to capitalise on the huge library of content the WWE owns. In some ways, the WWE Network can be said to have paved the way for other sports-focused streaming services. Many professional sports leagues have since followed suit with their own dedicated streaming services, but none has yet found the success that the WWE Network has.