WWE Co-President George Barrios recently spoke with The Verge to discuss the WWE Network 2.0. Barrios called the recent re-launch a success, calling it a "night and day" difference compared to the original service that launched in 2014.
"It wasn't as smooth as any one of us would've liked. It wasn't as rigorous," Barrios said of the original launch in 2014. He continued, "To come off, and obviously we're at the end of the first inning, but to actually make that transition as seamless as we did it, I think it's a testament to the team. WWE has this incredibly talented senior team on the product side, on the core technology side, on the data side, that really drove a re-platforming that we're super proud of."
Barrios did acknowledge that there are issues with the re-launch. WWE Network subscribers have reported that some content has disappeared with the re-design, and others have reported audio/video sync issues, which have been resolved, among other issues.
"They're right. There are things that are missing, and those are going to come quick," Barrios said.
It was noted that the WWE Digital team is working to get all of the bugs and issued fixed soon because the next phase of the re-launch is coming soon - a free tier and a more expensive tier.
It was also noted that WWE wants to include the same free-to-watch videos found on their mobile app as a part of the WWE Network everywhere, including on TV devices. Barrios said a major integrated experience is coming soon, in weeks and not months.
"Our free content lived separately from our premium subscription content. They were kind of in different places," Barrios said, outlining the Network's upcoming free streaming option. "What's coming here soon, in weeks and not months, is the beginning of integration of our free content with our paid content. It'll be one integrated experience, and what content you can access just depends on what level member you are."
Beyond that integrated experience, WWE has bigger ideas for the future of the Network, including a step-up premium subscription plan that could add exclusive content, and potentially ticketing and merchandise components. The Verge listed the following breakdown for the tiered system:
* Free: This will offer the same free-to-watch videos you'd normally find on WWE.com. Barrios said WWE might also offer timed previews of paid WWE Network content.
* Regular: The standard WWE Network experience, combining free content with subscription benefits like live pay-per-views, on-demand streaming, and original programming.
* Premium: "We think there's also an opportunity to super-serve our most passionate Network subscribers with a premium tier that'll bring together more content for them, more features for them, and also integrating some of our other non-video services like our commerce — potentially integrating something like free shipping, bringing together our digital ticketing efforts in there. It becomes the one place to experience everything WWE," Barrios said.
Barrios did not reveal how much WWE might charge for the premium tier.
Barrios did say that WWE is not interested in becoming a subscription channel through Apple TV, Roku or Amazon Prime Video.
"It becomes a tradeoff of economics, access to data, things of that nature," Barrios said. "To be honest with you, it's not something that we get a lot of commentary on from our audience, from our fans. It's something we think about. At this point though, that mix of economics and the data is just not something we felt comfortable with."
Barrios revealed a "Download To Go" feature that will be introduced on the WWE Network in the near future, which will allow offline downloads. This new feature will let subscribers watch full-length events anywhere they want, and has been a top request from subscribers for a long time.
"I spend a lot of time on planes with bad Wi-Fi," Barrios joked. "So that's my personal feature that I definitely want. It's prioritized on the roadmap."
With that feature revealed, Barrios said WWE fans should not expect the company to make the switch to 4K with their pay-per-view events anytime soon. WWE has run tests and captured live events in 4K, but there's no firm timeline on when fans will be able to stream content in 4K and with HDR color.
"4K, I think that will be driven more by the penetration of 4K devices and then 4K consumption. It seems like a century ago, but when we moved to HD 10 years ago or so, we waited until about 25 or 30 percent of the big screens in the homes were HD-capable," Barrios said. "I think similarly, both from a broadband standpoint (5G driving some of it) as well as the big screen penetration of 4K, when we go 4K kind of will be driven by that. To your point, we've experimented with it, but I wouldn't expect a significant amount of video content in 4K this year certainly."
While the Network might have upended WWE's traditional pay-per-view revenues, preventing YouTube from eating into their cable ratings remains a focus as they get ready to premiere SmackDown on Fox Friday nights next month, and WWE's weekly live programming will be staying on cable for the foreseeable future.
"We think there's an immense amount of value and also value for our pay-TV partners, and also reach for our audience, so we think that live content in the pay-TV bundle makes a lot of sense," Barrios said.
WWE is moving forward with the new Network experience and looking to add new value wherever they can. Barrios made the near-term objectives very clear and said they hope to have these going by SummerSlam 2020 in August.
"Even better performance, bring back the features that couldn't be there at launch, bring new features like Download To Go, get both tiers up and running," Barrios said of the objectives. "If by next SummerSlam we've done all that, we're going to feel awesome."