Reinventing WWE's PPV Strategy
The New Year isn’t just for partying and making resolutions you can’t possibly keep. It’s also the beginning of a new chapter for people, business, and even governments. The New Year marks a clean slate. And this week, WWE took the opportunity of 2013’s clean slate to announce their newest Pay Per View schedule:
Royal Rumble - 1/27/13 - Phoenix, AZ
Elimination Chamber - 2/17/13 - New Orleans, LA
WrestleMania - 4/7/13 - East Rutherford, NJ
Extreme Rules - 5/19/13 - St. Louis, MO
TBD - 6/16/13 - Chicago, IL
Money In The Bank - 7/14/13 - Philadelphia, PA
SummerSlam - 8/18/13 - Los Angeles, CA
Night Of Champions - 9/15/13 - Detroit, MI
Over The Limit - 10/6/13 - Buffalo, NY
Hell In A Cell - 10/27/13 - Miami, FL
Survivor Series - 11/24/13 - Boston, MA
TLC - 12/15/13 - Houston, TX (Cageside Seats)
Take a minute to analyze that schedule. Now, does anything stick out to you? Here’s what stood out for me initially:
- There’s no PPV in March, which pushes Extreme Rules, historically a very strong show, deep into May. That means, until June, there will be no “filler” PPVs, like last year’s Over the Limit (now one of October’s PPVs). It’s sure to be a strong start to the year for WWE.
- Speaking of June, WWE has yet to settle on a PPV name/theme. My vote? King of the Ring, with a new stipulation: Winner gets an automatic title shot at SummerSlam. It’s too obvious.
- 2013 is sure to be just as weak for the WWE between SummerSlam and Survivor Series as it was in 2012. Night of Champions, Over the Limit, and Hell in a Cell, unless fueled by a surprisingly hot storyline, are sure to be skippable, just as they’ve been in years past.
To sum it up, while WWE’s 2013 PPV schedule is nicely front-loaded, it’s ultimately not enough of a change from 2012. And with Pay Per View buys either declining or remaining stagnant, it’s odd that the WWE would refuse to change things up. New talent (Ryback) and returning favorites (The Rock) have been able to lift individual PPV buyrates this year, perhaps the WWE is counting on similar ploys in 2013.
I’d argue that the WWE should be more proactive in reinventing their Pay Per View model rather than resting on their laurels. PPV is in decline for multiple reasons, including oversaturation, price, and piracy. If the WWE just sits back and waits for the market to fix itself, they’re going to find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Pay Per View events certainly aren’t the WWE’s primary source of income, and the company isn’t in immediate danger due to the format’s diminishing returns. But a successful PPV model can add so much to a professional wrestling promotion. It’s the ultimate sell: pay to see the guy you hate so much get beatdown by the guy you love so much. It (obviously) allows for a much bigger audience than before, which equates to more dollars than before.
The problem is, it costs a lot to produce a Pay Per View, and less people are buying them than before. Why? Because there are twelve a year and they cost too much. Twelve PPVs a year would be a whole lot of premium wrestling alone. But with three-hour Raws every Monday, and two-hour Smackdowns every Thursday, not to mention a bevy of other shows, there’s simply way too much wrestling on every week, let alone month. Oversaturation burns people out.
Even with over ten hours of wrestling on every week, there still isn’t enough time to flesh out a feud in a month to make it a worthwhile buy. Especially at the absurd prices WWE charges for Pay Per Views. $50+ a month means over $600 a year... to watch wrestling. That’s not counting your cable bill, ticket costs, or any other wrestling related purchases. In a time when families are more budget-minded than ever before, having such a costly interest just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Individuals and families are bound to pick and choose which PPVs to purchase.
It doesn’t help that pirating Pay Per View events is so tremendously easy. Fast internet connections have led to streaming video, which has led to pirated video. From NFL games, to live network television, to movies, to WWE PPVs, it’s a more enjoyable experience than ever before to watch anything you’d like from your computer. A computer screen is rarely as satisfying a viewing experience as a living room television, but without the added costs, many feel the trade off is worth it.
Due to all of these issues, Pay Per View popularity is fading. Ironically, while the WWE continues to sit on their hands, content with their current PPV model, their competition has made the bold decision to change their model. Earlier this week, TNA announced an overhaul to their PPV schedule, moving to just four major events a year. Here’s an excerpt from their press release:
"The 52 annual episodes of Impact Wrestling will lead to four, epic pay-per-view events commencing with Genesis January 13, Lockdown March 10, Slammiversary June 9, and Bound For Glory October 13."
“The Pay-Per-View industry has changed so much in the last decade. The traditional Pay-Per-View wrestling model needed to evolve and we believe this strategy will positively impact not only the Pay-Per-View events but the weekly television programming as well." (Wrestle Zone)
Although TNA may have changed their Pay Per View model for multiple reasons, including a lack of capital to work with, it’s still the right move. Four PPVs allow for plenty of time for storylines and feuds to develop, it’s less of a cost burden on customers, and it doesn’t burn an audience out.
WWE could, and should, do the same to their Pay Per View model. It would be easy, and something they can accomplish right away. The four major PPVs are already there: SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania. If they want to push one back or add another, to better distribute throughout the year, by all means do so. Whatever they choose to do, it would be well received as long as it reduces the burden laid on the consumer.
The resulting increase in buys for the the four (or five) shows, minus the cost of producing eight additional shows, could result in better business. Having only four major shows could also increase the cost for outside companies to advertise on WWE Pay Per Views. And if the WWE is intent on keeping a major show every month, they could do televised specials which cost less to produce, have dedicated advertising, and wouldn’t gouge viewers.
As for piracy, limiting Pay Per Views to four times a year should be enough to eliminate costs issues with individuals or families. But if it’s not enough, the WWE should go further and offer multiple online viewing options at a highly discounted rate. An SD/half-screen feed priced at less than $20 may be worth purchasing for those who would usually pirate a feed. After all, fans who seek out an illegal fans are still just that - fans. Their support should be far easier to obtain than someone who has never watched a PPV before. If you offer attractive pricing options, people will always come. Everybody loves a deal.
While WWE’s 2013 Pay Per View schedule has already been released, it’s never too early to begin planning for 2014. With a reduced PPV schedule, WWE can save, make more, and keep consumers happy. Of course, the big difference maker could ultimately be the WWE Network. If, as has been rumored, PPV events are moved over to the WWE Network, then all this discussion will have been for naught. But the Network itself is a volatile venture, and nothing can be assumed about it just yet. In the meantime, WWE needs to seriously rethink their PPV strategy. Is it crazy to say they should take a cue from TNA and revert to the fewer shows of yesteryear? I don’t think so.
Thoughts and opinions? Share them with me!
Written by Thomas Avb Briggs