WWE Network launched earlier this week. The new online video service offers new WWE content and lots of archival content. The initial price for the service is $9.99 with a month with a six-month commitment. The company is offering a free one-week trial of the service. On paper, this is an outstanding value for wrestling fans. You get live WWE pay-per-view (PPV) events and tons of classic content for less than the cost of a single PPV. That said, there are some major issues that the company needs to work on. Here are my initial impressions on WWE Network.
– Do yourself a favor and watch all the Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat matches from 1989. If you like classic wrestling, these are some of the best matches you’ll ever see. The Ric Flair content alone makes WWE Network worth $10 a month.
– It was great fun watching wrestlers before they became huge stars. I enjoyed watching “Stunning” Steve Austin. There are a lot of wrestling fans out there that are totally unaware of his WCW/ECW work. The same goes for Mick Foley. I was always a fan of Cactus Jack in WCW/ECW.
– Naturally (and it’s a sad fact that it’s natural), WWE Network has lots of matches with wrestlers that died too young. It was great taking a stroll down memory lane with Rick Rude, Brian Pillman, Owen Hart, and others.
– It was fantastic watching classic Sting matches. I was a Little Stinger back in the day. He was one of my favorite wrestlers ever. Then he watched The Crow. That gimmick sucked. Give me neon-tights wearing, rat-tail sporting Sting over Crow String any day of the week.
– I’m hoping that newer wrestling fans will watch some classic Bruiser Brody matches on WWE Network. Every “monster heel” character has been influenced by Brody.
– It was weird watching standard definition video in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It feels…unnatural.
– It was disturbing to hear the word “oriental” used so much in 1989 broadcasts.
– It’s annoying that WWE Network censors profanity. Wtf.
– While I expected the service to be loaded up with WWE, WCW, and ECW content, I was hoping for more WCCW content. I was big fan of the Von Erichs, Fabulous Freebirds, Chris Adams, and other wrestlers that worked for the Texas promotion. You can even see the Ultimate Warrior when he was known as the Dingo Warrior. Hopefully more WCCW content will be added on a rolling basis. I’m also hoping for more content from the “territory” days, like Mid-South Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling shows.
– Watching the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart feature made me sad. Michaels seems at peace with where he is and what he’s done. Hart has let go of a lot of his anger, but it still seems to be lingering in the back of his psyche. He, rather sadly, wasted too many years of his life being a bitter and angry man.
– The live stream works just fine. I haven’t had any issues with whatever is being pushed as “current” programming on WWE Network.
– On-demand content is another story. I’ve had numerous issues with buffering, as well as quite a few crashes. Performance on my MacBook (Chrome) and iPad (WWE App) has been disappointing. This is a big-time concern. While I’m jazzed about WWE Network’s potential and I’ve really enjoyed watching old matches, the performance has been abysmal.
– Watching WWE Network on my MacBook reminds me of why I hate Flash. The performance is shoddy and the CPU utilization is ridiculously high. I really wish the company went with HTML5 video. Hell, Microsoft Silverlight (think Netflix) would have been much better. This is what happens when a huge Internet video project is headed up in Stamford, Connecticut. If WWE had a satellite office in Silicon Valley, it could have hired a number of engineers to make a superior product.
– WWE has already added new features to WWE Network. Shows now have bookmarks, so you can skip to the matches you want to see. Of course the buffering issues make this more difficult than it ought to be. Personally, I wish individual matches were available instead of entire shows. Slicing up PPV events into individual matches would potentially help performance and make the mediocre search function more meaningful.
– I’ve been using WWE Network primarily at home through an AT&T U-Verse Max Turbo connection (24 Mbps downstream). The service was usable 30 percent of the time, which would be a fantastic average in Major League Baseball, but is rather pathetic for a streaming Internet video service. When I took my iPad to a nearby coffeehouse to test out the service through a decent AT&T DSL connection, it was completely unusable.
Conclusion (For Now): WWE Network has so much potential, but it’s not ready…at all. It feels like a product that needs several months of beta testing, yet the company is comfortable charging for it now. While the current content lineup is great and has the potential to become brilliant, the performance is just dreadful. Hopefully WWE gets past the numerous technical issues that plague WWE Network and make it the streaming video service smarts and marks have dreamed of.
Stay tuned for more updates on WWE Network soon. For now, please use the comments section and let me know about your WWE Network experience. If you can, please list the type, speed, and provider of your Internet service.