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WWE Network 2.0: How WWE rebuilt its streaming service following a breakup with Disney

The moment Disney put its streaming future on BAMTech was when WWE executives knew they had to make major changes to WWE Network, the company's subscription video service. Years ago, WWE and BAMTech spent 10 months building the network that offers both on-demand content and linear programming around the clock. This came in the run up to his eye-catching 2014 CES debut with CEO Vince McMahon and numerous WWE superstars.

After witnessing how BAMTech contributed to the creation of HBO Now, which reliably streamed Game of Thrones to millions of viewers every week, WWE hired the company to build a unique service. As part of its $ 9.99 monthly subscriptions, WWE Network allowed fans to stream the same pay-per-views they had previously paid for cable operators, up to $ 60 per event. The service combined this tantalizing deal with WWE's massive TV archives and a series of original shows. In April, WWE reported that the WWE network ended the first quarter of 201

9 with 1.58 million paying subscribers.

The number of subscribers tends to dwindle and wane based on the calendar, and typically peaks around the company's marquee each year WrestleMania . There are no contracts with WWE Network so customers can come and go as they please. Even so, switching to direct streaming for McMahon was a triumphant victory. Until Disney went and complicated things.

The WWE network is now easier to navigate, with better graphics and chapters for each event.

WWE and BAMTech remained tag team partners until WWE decided this year to deviate from BAMTech after the introduction of Disney to the streaming experts who had contributed to sports leagues such as Major League Baseball (where BAMTech began ), the PGA and the NHL in the era of mobile streaming. In addition to HBO and Hulu as partners, BAMTech has also been involved in the development of services such as Sony PlayStation Vue. However, the reason for Disney's purchase of the company was obvious: it wanted to advance its own streaming fate and build an irresistible Netflix rival. So far, so good.

WWE knew that the writing was on the wall and had its own reasons to turn elsewhere. As George Barrios, co-president, recently stated in an interview to The Verge WWE wanted more control over the network's technology stack and greater involvement in it. "Obviously, I can not speak for what they thought, and in our view we made the decision unilaterally, and they may have done so, but when Disney paid the price for BAMTech, our point of view was not to be long term Did not know one way or the other, so we made the call, and we decided that it makes sense for us to commute. "

  Collision 2018 - Second Day

WWE -Co President George Barrios.
Photo by Seb Daly / Sportsfile on Getty Images

A Disney spokesman said The Verge that the decision to split was mutually exclusive and the result of BAMTech's development Disney streaming services, all of which would have focused on the company's Disney +, ESPN + and Hulu platforms.

In both cases, WWE faced a decisive decision. The company could seek to fully integrate its streaming service, which now accounts for a significant portion of its business, into a growing team of digital products. The alternative to this game was to find new partners who would give WWE the greater control and ownership they wanted. "We evaluated it," Barrios said, doing it alone. In the end, however, WWE decided to set up a new faction with two other companies, Endeavor Streaming and Massive Interactive, which led to the reworked experience of the WWE network launched just before SummerSlam last month has been.

Endeavor Streaming is just one part (and a relatively new part) of the massive company Endeavor, which owns IMG, WME, and which has bought the UFC in 2016. The streaming unit, which sparked WWE's interest, was founded after Endeavor last year, acquired NeuLion, another company specializing in over-the-top streaming technology. More recently, WWE announced a podcast partnership with Endeavor.

For the network, Endeavor Streaming was commissioned to handle core services such as content delivery, transcoding and customer billing. It already performs similar tasks for UFC Fight Pass, the NBA (outside the US), Univision and others. The résumé for the replacement of BAMTech was so strong. I spoke to Guy Schory, Chief Digital Officer of Endeavor, who said the company offers WWE "a level of scalability, reliability and adaptability that we currently consider unique on the market." Schory said Endeavor Streaming "goes well beyond one Technology providers ". providing WWE with a robust, flexible infrastructure backend that can be customized and adapted to their needs, and a content management system capable of managing a decade-long vault.

WWE collaborated with Massive Interactive on the customer-centric apps to redesign the entire WWE network experience on mobile devices, PCs and TVs. The network has been completely redesigned, with much better search capabilities, improved video quality, and a new "superstars" section that captures WWE actors such as Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns, and the rest of the company. Certain devices running the old WWE network, including some Smart TVs, the Xbox 360 and the PS3, have lagged since version 2.0. This has frustrated some customers, but the service now feels more consistent across platforms, looks much better, and is easier to use because of the changes. And WWE has the greater share of control over everything it wanted.

"On the video side, the heavyweight is lower. It's actually pretty easy, "Barrios said as he talked about BAMTech's migration to Endeavor Streaming. "The trickier lift is everything on the data page." Resetting and restarting users would have been easier, but WWE wanted to keep things like watchlists and account information. "Our ability to repeat everything – on the entire stack – has been greatly improved. So our users will be very, very happy if we continue to introduce some of the things we had to pull back, as well as new features and functionality. I think they will be excited. "

Barrios emphasized that WWE Network 2.0 is standards-based. It is supported by HTML5 and the video has been upgraded from the previous maximum resolution of 720p to 1080p, resulting in a noticeable improvement in streaming quality on TV screens, laptops and tablets.

Disney did its part in the last weeks to ensure a smooth transition in cooperation with WWE. "Not only were they good business partners to us and a big part of our success, we've developed the product we've developed, especially the core services. But even when the decision was made that we move, they were great, "said Barrios. "They have helped us a lot in the development of the new product and have been very, very helpful during the transition, which is scary, as you can imagine. These last few days, when we were about to move, the migration, these are scary, exciting days, and they were great. We made the decision to leave, but [they were] unbelievably professional. I could not speak better about Michael Paull and his team. "

Barrios praised the restart of the network as a success, calling it a difference between day and night compared to 2014, when the service first went online did not go as smoothly as any of us would have wished. It was not so strict, "he said about the original debut five years ago. "It's clear we're at the end of the first innings, but to make this transition as seamless as possible, I think this is a testament for the team," he said. "WWE has this incredibly talented senior team on the product side, on the core technology side and on the data side, that has really led to a new platform that we are very proud of."

The new WWE Network app is not & # 39; t without bugs. For example, older non-HD content on iPad Pro devices does not fill the entire screen.

This does not mean that not everything is perfect. Subscribers to the WWE network have found that some content has disappeared with the redesign. "You're right, there are things that are missing and will come quickly," Barrios said, with other customers experiencing audio / video sync issues after the update, and the new "Superstars" section is set to one Look Helpful, but after selecting people, will display videos in a completely different chronological order.WWE's Digital Team is working to quickly fix these little bugs, because the next phase of the WWE network is not far off.

Subscribers can track their favorite WWE actors in the new Superstars section.

There will soon be a free tier – and a more expensive one.

WWE wants to include the same free videos you want to watch To be found everywhere on their mobile app as part of the WWE network, even on TV. "Our free content was separate from our premium subscription content. They were in different places somehow, "said Barrios, outlining the network's upcoming free streaming option. "Coming soon, in weeks and not months, is the beginning of integrating our free content with our paid content, it will be an integrated experience, and what content you can access depends on which member you are."

But WWE has bigger ideas for the future, including an enhanced premium subscription that could add exclusive content and even content to add merchandising and ticketing components.

  • Free: The same free videos are offered Barrios said WWE could also offer timed previews of paid content from the WWE network.
  • Normal: The WWE network's flagship experience, offering free content with subscription benefits such as Live pay-per-views, on-demand streaming and original programming combined.
  • Premium: "We believe There is also an opportunity to provide our most passionate network subscribers with a premium layer that brings more content to them and more features for them, and may also integrate some of our other integrated non-video services such as our commerce Something like free shipping and bundle our efforts for digital ticketing there. Here you can experience everything that has to do with WWE. "Barrios did not announce how much WWE could charge for the premium tier.

What about Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Roku subscriptions?

In-app subscriptions are the status quo, but companies like Apple, Amazon, and Roku are pursuing a model to sell subscription channels so strong with their own platforms. Currently, WWE has no interest in becoming an Apple TV Channel or Prime Video Channel. "There will be a trade-off between cost-effectiveness, access to data and things like that," Barrios said. "To be honest, it's not something we get a lot of comments from our audience, from our fans, and we think about that, but at the time, that mix of economy and data is not what we agreed with."

Offline downloads are on their way, but WWE is in no hurry for 4K

WWE Network will introduce offline downloads – "Download To Go," calls Barrios the feature – in the near future, subscribers can pay-per- Watch events or TV shows from WWE, WCW and ECW in full length wherever they like, the feature has long been a top request from subscribers. "I spend a lot of time on airplanes with poor Wi-Fi," joked Barrios. "So that's my personal feature that I definitely want. It has priority on the roadmap. "

However, do not expect the WWE pay-per-views will soon switch to 4K. The company has conducted tests and recorded live events in 4K, but there is still no exact timetable on when to watch the drama WrestleMania can stream in 4K and with HDR color.

I think this is more driven by the penetration of 4K devices and then 4K consumption.It seems to be a century ago, but When we switched to HD about 10 years ago, we were waiting until about 25 or 30 percent of the big screens in the homes were HD-capable, "said Barrios." I think similarly, both from the broadband standpoint (5G drives part of it) as well as the penetration of the big screens with 4K, when we drive 4K it will depend on that, so far we've experimented with it, but I certainly would not expect a significant amount of video content in 4K this year "Endeavor's Schory said 4K HDR video is on the company's roadmap for this year, so the option will exist there whenever WWE decides it's time.

A YouTube Sensation

With nearly 50 million subscribers, WWE is one of the ten most popular YouTube channels in the world, and the company does not shy away from trumpeting that performance. Viewers of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live! are regularly reminded that the company has more subscribers than any major sports league.

WWE uploads new videos to YouTube several times a day. These include weekly key moments from Raw or SmackDown Live occasional full matches, top 10 compilations, and more. But is it possible to be good at also on YouTube? If you can see the highlights on YouTube, why look at Raw in the US and advertise? WWE has data showing that some fans prefer their WWE in shorthand. "We do not want to lose her," said Barrios. For similar reasons, WWE produces on demand compressed versions of Monday Night Raw for Hulu, significantly shortening the usual three-hour runtime.

"It's a balance, and we're really thoughtful, and we have a lot of analysis on how we can tweak it to maximize it for everyone – ourselves and our partners, and our fans," said Barrios are really good at where the strategy is today and we have changed it. Most fans would not notice, I do not want to talk publicly about what we've changed, but we're testing different things. "This constant consideration of what is behind it also applies to side activities such as UpUpDownDown, the playing channel directed by Austin Creed (WWE superstar Xavier Woods). "You just have to think about it. What do you want to achieve with this particular content? That's how we decide today. It will evolve. That's the one thing I can guarantee. "Barrios said to me," We are essentially a data powerhouse now. So we are quite differentiated as we think about it.

WWE to Fox's big move in October

It's especially important to keep YouTube from accepting cable ratings as WWE nears its October 4 premiere on Fox Broadcast Network. SmackDown Live leaves the US and moves to his new home on Friday night. Fox has reportedly paid $ 1 billion for the five-year WWE deal. It is also believed that NBCUniversal has agreed to a very large number of Monday Night Raw WWE's flagship program to keep exactly where it is in the US. "We believe there is tremendous value and value to our pay-TV partners, and that we have a reach for our audiences as well, so we think it makes sense to have live pay-TV bundle content "Barrios said. The WWE network may have improved WWE's traditional pay-per-view revenue, but the company's weekly live program will be on cable for the foreseeable future.

WWE also takes the opportunity to expand the brand on cable broadcasts with reality shows such as Total Divas / Total Bellas Miz and Mrs. and documentaries. Bill Simmons last year produced a feature film documentary about Andre the Giant for HBO, and ESPN sent a 30 for 30 about wrestling legend Ric Flair. "We're lucky to be creating a lot of content, and we're paying close attention to what's going on where," Barrios said. "It's a constantly evolving Rubix cube. There are several dimensions: There is geography, There is platform, There is content, There are different fan segments that you do. So you try to optimize all four as well as possible. But that's our job. "WWE Network's Plan B undoubtedly helped WWE in its negotiations with Fox and the US Both Raw and SmackDown are still an important rating factor for broadcasters Even though the numbers of viewers from the days when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock were the faces of WWE, just listen to the response Austin received last night at Madison Square Garden – in 2019: [19659045] WWE is more focused on ratings than on "time spent" and other engagements, and like Netflix, WWE is not to be overlooked for more than ever before. Fortnite poses as much of a threat as other primetime cables. "Everybody has a thousand hits a day on their time. So you want to keep an eye on everything and try to be as relevant as possible at all times and on every front, "said Paul calling" Triple H "Levesque in the media earlier this year.

And WWE is preparing for the most direct and significant The competition has been rivaled by All Elite Wrestling for years and was founded by Tony Khan, the son of Jacksonville Jaguar owner Shahid Khan (AEW's lead investor), and includes former WWE inter alias Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose and Cody Rhodes AEW will release its own live weekly program on TNT next month, and in late August WWE announced plans to remove NXT – its weekly WWE Network show featuring the company's most promising young superstars. NXT will be converted into a live show that airs every Wednesday night in the same time slot as AEW in the US

"Welcome to the game. We'll see how it goes, "Barrios said of AEW's arrival. AEW transfers its pay-per-view events to WarnerMedia's Bleacher Report Live app. It is currently unknown how the company will ultimately fit into HBO Max. AEW tries to bring expectations to a certain level. Some companies find it unrealistic to believe that the new business will somehow overtake or overthrow WWE. But it can be a nuisance, and fans hope that a new rival will help keep WWE at the top of his game, just as WCW did during the '90s Monday Night Wars.

As far as the WWE network is concerned, WWE is pushing ahead with its new experience and creating new added value wherever possible. Barrios made the short-term goals very clear: "Even better performance, bring back features that were not available at launch, bring new features like" Download To Go ", get both levels working." If we did all this until the next SummerSlam we will feel great. "

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