Smackdown's Future, CM Punk's Legal Action, What's Wrong w/WWE Network

The following is today's edition of Ask WNW. Ask WNW is the most popular feature on the website where Richard Gray answers four questions daily, Monday through Friday. To submit your question for the next installment of Ask WNW, click here.
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Do you think it is wise for Smackdown to change nights from Friday to Thursday?

The status of a Smackdown move remains uncertain. While a move from Friday back to Thursday appeared inevitable following a WWE production truck with the graphic “Thursdays 8/7c", WWE confirming a move was contemplated to SyFy adding the show to their schedule for Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 8/7c. However, the network announced on Friday that Haven will occupy the 8/7c timeslot on Thursday nights beginning next week, while still having conflicting information on the official schedule. WWE hasn't commented since the "contemplated" statement, so a move is far from a sure thing.

I believe WWE is better off with Smackdown on Friday nights for the simple fact they don't have to compete with the NFL. The NFL poses a major threat to WWE's viewership because it's the same demographic and we all know how stiff their competition can be on Monday nights, even for games that aren't competitive. I couldn't imagine why Vince McMahon would want that headache twice a week, even though Thursday in prime time is a much better spot than Friday (traditionally, Thursday is the most watched night of the week while Friday is the least watched night). Again, there is very much conflicting information if a move will even happen so until we hear from WWE, will go forward with Smackdown on SyFy every Friday night at 8/7c.

With CM Punk suing WWE over royalties for inclusion in WWE 2K15, do you see this as him really not coming back?

According to reports that we outlined at this link, CM Punk sent a legal letter to WWE over their use of his likeness, specifically his likeness in the WWE ’15 video game. Punk is apparently seeking royalties but WWE feels they have a claim with "breach of contract." Since I haven't been able to confirm beyond that I don't want to do too much speculating. When/if I am able to get more details about said letter, I might be able to provide more information.

As for Punk never going back, we never say never in the wrestling business. Brock Lesnar and WWE had a legal battle after his departure in 2004/2005 because he had a lengthy non-compete clause attached to his contract but he went on to work for New Japan Pro Wrestling. We all know how that story ends so we just don't say the word never. I believe CM Punk missed a golden opportunity to return by not working Wrestlemania 30 this year and left a tremendous amount of money on the table.

Can you envision a scenario where Vince McMahon gets another shot at traditional TV carriage and pulls back the OTT model for a traditional version of WWE Network? I think the casual fans would come then.

The WWE Network is available as a traditional Pay-TV channel in Canada and I haven't heard good things about it. I personally do not believe the fact the WWE Network is an over the top service (as opposed to a traditional cable network) is what is causing for it not to grow as the company had hoped. There are other reasons and those reasons include product over-saturation, bad marketing techniques and the simple fact that WWE might have been overly optimistic about interest. I'll quickly run through these points.

Monday Night Raw is three hours each week; Smackdown gives the viewer another two. Even if a fan only watches these two shows each week, that's five hours. That's a significant commitment from anyone and doesn't even consider secondary shows, online consumption and DVD/Blu-Rays. The WWE Network provides the consumer with much more content but perhaps many of the four million plus that watch Raw each week and the two million plus that watch Smackdown each week, feel that's enough. Remember, secondary pay-per-views used to receive in the range of 200,000 buys when they sold well with "big four" shows drawing more. However, it was only Wrestlemania that would touch the one million buys threshold. WWE has already attracted far more than the traditional pay-per-view buyer as 700,000 WWE Network subscriptions (the last number announced) is significant. And those were only domestic subscribers.

Bad marketing is perhaps the most disappointing component of the WWE Network. I've been a loud critic of the $9.99 campaign because I feel it's annoying and it devalues the service. I talked about this at length in the latest WNW Premium Mailbag but think of it this way. Why do you eat at McDonalds? It's cheap and easy. You don't go to McDonalds expecting a world class meal. The entire $9.99 campaign focuses on the price without defining the value. Sure, they try to convince the viewer it's well worth it but lost in $9.99, $9.99, $9.99 is that it's a service of value. How much was the Best in the World CM Punk DVD? Or what about the new Paul Heyman DVD? How did the most expensive WWE pay-per-view -- Wrestlemania -- more than triple average pay-per-view buys? These products weren't marketed on their price, they were marketed on the fact they were must-see. The WWE Network is available at an incredibly low price but lost in translation is the fact it's a valuable service.

The final point ties into the first point. WWE has all of the hardcore fans. People like me and you that watch each and every week, order every pay-per-view regardless and get online and dissect each respective show. They've gone a couple steps further by attracting the marginal pay-per-view buyer and the casual pay-per-view buyer. At 700,000 WWE Network subscribers, it's safe to say they're getting close to the fan that orders just Wrestlemania (remember, it was the only show that even came close to 1 million buys). Now where do the extra subscriptions come from? WWE is hoping that making the WWE Network available internationally will help their numbers and it should but the idea of a service with millions of domestic subscribers might have been overly optimistic. While WWE claimed their targets were conservatively based, I would argue that based on the percentage of people that ordered the pay-per-views.

There's no quick and easy fix for the WWE Network. It's a new model not only for WWE but for any company in the entire world. They've gone from a company that relied on pay-per-view revenue to a company that will rely on Network subscriptions. It will take time and it won't be easy, but WWE should come out all right in the end. By going the OTT route, they've taken out the middleman. They don't have to worry about contracts and clearance; they just have to convince the viewer it's worth signing up for. Once getting someone subscribed, they have to focus on keeping them.

From the Ask WNW vault…

October 2012: In your opinion how many years do you believe it will be until we see the next “face of WWE”? I don’t see it in any of the current up and coming talent. - No one knows who will be the next “face of WWE” let alone when we will see it and while you asked my opinion, I’m not in a position to make such a bold proclamation. I can tell you some view the next face of WWE to be CM Punk while Triple H feels Sheamus has the opportunity to put the company on his back. I actually think Cena is the face of the era of people like Punk and Sheamus and feel it will be someone else. Randy Orton is younger than them all but given his Wellness problems; I don’t think it can rest on his shoulders either. The next “face of WWE” will probably emerge when we least expect it but I assure you will know it when it happens.

Questions that are legible stand the best chance of getting answered. The next installment of Ask WNW is scheduled to run on Monday, September 8, 2014.

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