February 24, 2014 could very well be the day that everything in media changed when we look back at it many years from now. Sure, streaming media has been around for years, but Netflix and Hulu haven’t been able to bring you live streams of premium, in-demand content, and live streaming services like LiveStream, Justin.tv and Ustream do provide live streaming services, but their content is either legal and has limited appeal, or, especially on Justin.tv, illegal and serious infringements of copyright laws.
Justin.tv used to have quite a few channels that broadcast (illegally) wrestling content from pro wrestling organizations, but a crackdown roughly two years ago pretty much eliminated that. However, someone in Stamford, Connecticut must have been paying attention, because around the same time that those illegal streams went dark, WWE Network was announced.
The original intent of the network was to be a traditional network carried on cable and satellite outlets, but with so many carriage deals coming up with traditional powers like ESPN and the various cable outlets of the owners of broadcast networks, WWE Network was effectively squeezed out of that market because they couldn’t get the kind of carriage deal to make said network viable.
Thus, the McMahon clan and the execs at WWE came up with the idea to bring their network strictly to the internet. It can be accessed via computer, tablet, smart phone, streaming media boxes like Roku and gaming systems like Playstation and XBox. Most of these already either have apps to stream media from Netflix, Hulu Plus and other sites, but with the WWE’s live streaming network, it takes the game even further. Live television still pulls in eyes to the TV screen, and WWE has already streamed an episode of its developmental territory NXT as well as one of its B-shows, WWE Main Event, and despite problems with the former, from indications from social media, the viewers were tuning in big time.
WWE has access to not only its own content, but all the content that it has purchased from now-defunct wrestling organizations such as World Championship Wrestling, ECW, World Class Championship Wrestling, American Wrestling Association, and so on. It’s produced scores of documentaries over the years, as well as DVDs of its major superstars as well as those who wrestled in other organizations but may have never broke into main event status in McMahon’s organization. There is a definite demand from old school wrestling fans to watch the shows of their youth, and it looked to be that the WWE Network will eventually fulfill that desire, though, at present, only a few shows from the past are online. However, all of the pay per views from WWE, WCW, and ECW are available.
So why should this matter to a non-wrestling fan? Because other media companies are watching how WWE Network goes, that’s why. The traditional models of broadcast media are starting to die out as more and more people get tired of the increasing costs of cable and satellite service as well as difficulties getting digital broadcast channels over the air from local television stations. While broadcast, cable and satellite networks still have live programming and exclusive content to fall back on, that might not be the case much longer.
Streaming high quality audio and video to a broadcast standard is pretty much doable with the broadband networks that America currently has, which means that a upstart network doesn’t need the massive cost of streaming its programming to a satellite anymore. Also, with the success of Netflix’s House of Cards and other original shows (as well as the rebooted Arrested Development), it means that the power is shifting away from the programming distributors to the producers.
Take for example Firefly, the single season show on Fox that was cancelled much to the chagrin of its many fans. If it had come along ten years later, it could have had its second season somewhere else, like Netflix or Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime Video. What this means that if a show isn’t successful today in a traditional media platform, it could very well find life again online through a streaming media company provided that the show has a large enough following to make funding the show’s production worthwhile.
Then there is the holy grail of broadcast, cable and satellite networks: live major league and college sports. It’s no secret that the reasons networks like ESPN locked up long term deals with major college conferences as well as professional sports leagues came about in fear that those very same sports organizations could decide before the decade is out to launch their own versions of WWE Networks.
Sure, all four major pro sports leagues have their own networks, and several conferences either have networks in place already or are about to launch them, but these are through traditional media distributors, and there is no current VOD service for those leagues. While you can watch, theoretically all the games in all the major sports leagues, there is no way currently to watch archived games save for those you can purchase from iTunes of NFL games from the past season.
All those leagues, as well as those networks mentioned before, are sitting on a lot of content that they have produced over the years, either by themselves or that they own from other networks. If the WWE Network is successful, it might prompt outlets like NFL Films to place their entire collection online and charge a monthly fee to access not only that, but also games from years past, either in condensed form or in full. It may also prompt broadcast networks to not only put their own content from the past on their own subscriber based networks, but it may also encourage them to produce their own online-only content.
It’s very hard to predict the future, and there are many who have said in the past that radio was doomed to die with the advent of television, yet it is still around. While these changes may not necessarily spell the doom of traditional media, it may slide down in importance like AM radio did with the advent of FM radio. Broadcast networks will adapt to survive, and with wireless networks expected to improve in the ability to handle high demand for data as well as high quality video and audio, it is very conceivable that radio, through wireless internet, may stage a comeback as it fights off foes like Pandora, iTunes, and podcasting.
In the end, though, what this means is a unique opportunity for those who want to break the major media company stranglehold on entertainment. We’ve seen it on YouTube, and we’ll see even more in the coming years on Netflix and other streaming media and video on demand sites. More choices means more competition, which means that we could see prices either level off or, perhaps, even decrease. It means that people could get the content they want and not have to pay for lots of content that they never watch, as most of us do who have cable or satellite. While there will still be movies and shows you’ll never watch on these streaming media services, it still looks like a rare win for the consumer!