It’s finally here. And after roughly 24 hours with WWE’s newest sports-entertainment revolution, I’ve decided to give a few thoughts on my personal experiences with WWE Network. Is this truly the next big thing? Or have constant buffering issues made me want to hang up my tights? Read on to find out.
Nine o’ clock on a Monday morning sounds like a terrible time to launch perhaps the biggest app in the history of sports. Turns out it was a smart move for Vince & company. I wasn’t able to sign-up immediately, but my Twitter feed was full of disgruntled and, dare I say, peeved consumers. People couldn’t log-in, or their Xbox 360 wouldn’t play video. When they finally made it through, most were complaining about endless buffer times. Not cool, man.
By the time I was ready to make the jump, WWE and its partner at MLBAM had already issued two separate statements. WWE’s read something generic along the lines of, “We apologize for any inconvenience, and are working hard…” etc. MLBAM made a similar statement, but blamed it on the “overwhelming” sign-up response. The company said it was the biggest in its history.
Initially I thought, “Hey, this is great! WWE Network will be so popular that it will change the TV distribution model, just like it promised!” I also assumed (wrongly) that any kinks in the proverbial stream would be worked out by the time I logged in. So I bided my time by reading behind people like Prowrestling.net’s Jason Powell, who were sharing their experiences while answering burning questions about the Chris Benoit disclaimer and Over the Edge 1999. Waiting here was the easy part.
I initially tried to log-in through WWE.com. As a side-note, I’m a previous WWE.com customer since mid-2013, having ordered many Pay-Per-Views directly from the company and streamed them through my Xbox 360. My credit card and billing info should have already been in their system. This should have been as simple as me logging-in, clicking “Free 1-Week Trial,” and then basking in the glory of Attitude-era goodness. Except it wasn’t. I tried to log-in five or six times before I resorted to sending Brian Fritz angry text messages and stomping around my house in a panicked haste. This was supposed to be THE moment. Instead, I wisened up and decided to create a new account (because, yeah, that makes sense), got an error message, and tried again. Finally, on about the 6th or 7th try, it took my new account info. Voila.
It made the most sense to try it at my computer first… which didn’t work. I had a little more success on my Nexus 7, where I watched the live stream (a John Cena mini-documentary) while making my way downstairs to the PS3. The app needed updating, which took FOREVER, and I pecked my account info in on Sony’s virtual keyboard. Tedious, but worth it.
So cozy on my couch, dog in my lap, I was finally ready to bask in the full glory of WWE’s crowning achievement.
The live stream almost worked through my Playstation 3. By this time the network was airing Wrestlemania 1 as filler until the Raw pre-show. When I tried to rewind, it froze. Cue the “Screw Wrestlemania 1!” reaction.
Okay, so I backed out. By this point I had learned that, A) The PS3 bluetooth remote does NOT work by default with the WWE app, unfortunately (a similar problem plagued the Amazon Prime app in its earliest inception), and B) Fast-forwarding and rewinding created giant time portals that resulted in an endless spinning white ring on my screen. Fair enough. This was the first day, right? Beggars can be choosers. So I resigned to picking out a Pay-Per-View from wrestling’s heyday.
The interface for choosing pay-per-views is confusing at best. You pick an organization, which I get. But then you have to pick an event before picking a year. At first I concluded that half of WWE’s back catalog was missing before recognizing my mistake. I picked an early ECW pay-per-view… no luck. I tried a WCW War Games event. Nada. Everything I tried showed me the rating before quickly delivering a “Content Not Available” error. If it’s not available, then what in the HECK am I paying for? Frustration.
A recent edition of NXT came up, which seemed like a great way to brush up before Thursday’s big event. But the idea of paying 9.99 a month to watch NXT (yes, even during my free trial) rubbed me the wrong way. And so I strengthened my resolve, and promised to find a pay-per-view from 1997, 1998, or 1999 that actually came through.
I loved King of the Ring. Leaving the format behind is one of WWE’s greatest sins. Therefore, picking KotR as my “I’m really going to make this work!” moment kind of makes sense. Sorta. I wanted to watch 1999’s show (from Greensboro, NC!), but settled on 1998 when my determination started to fade again. Buffering issues were everywhere. It sucked. But when the show started, my nostalgia took over, and I forgave WWE for a pretty terrible experience so far.
The card opened with The Headbangers with Taka Michinoku taking on Kaientai. It was fantastic. Hearing JR and Lawler ham it up at ringside, with phrases like “World Wrestling Federation” and “light-heavyweight champion,” made me grin from ear-to-ear. I didn’t dare try the fast-forward or rewind buttons, lest the gods of online network television interfere and smite my connection away. I learned to just enjoy what I was watching. Live in the moment. Seeing The Rock cut a promo on baby Michael Cole had me giddy. My first major revelation came when X-Pac and Owen Hart came out to wrestle… and I had no idea who won the match. Being able to re-experience an attitude-era moment as though it had never happened was glorious. When Jeff Jarrett came out, the camera cut to a fan sign that said, “Jeff Jerrett, Ain’t He Gay.” This was pre-PG Era, folks. Everybody in attendance looked ravenous, and the ring set-up was charmingly old school. Wrestling used to be so awesome.
When 7:30pm rolled around, I clicked back over to the live stream just in time to catch a mini Goldust documentary. Very entertaining. These are the perfect type of content pieces for WWE’s live stream, and a good way to fill empty time. By this point, I wasn’t experiencing any connection issues, and my quality appeared to be full-HD. WWE aired a promotional video of Triple H discussing the network’s importance. Nice touch. The pre-show was entertaining (albeit pretty standard fare by this point), but seeing Ric Flair on my TV was enough of an excuse to watch.
I dutifully flipped over to my cable box at 8, an unnecessarily jarring experience of going between TV inputs to watch the same program. I understand that WWE can’t put RAW on the network yet. But it’s also a hassle to go from PS3, to Cable, and back, just to see superstar interviews, and one that will make me less likely to repeat it in the future. Maybe I’ll watch the pre-and-post shows on my tablet or phone from now on. But if I make that leap, these shows will need to add some kind of hook because, honestly, after three hours of RAW (the night after a Pay-Per-View), the last thing I’m interested in is more WWE time filler.
When I logged back in today (this time on my computer), I was determined to finish up my Pay-Per-View from last night. But it didn’t save my spot like Netflix. And when I tried to drag the bar ahead, everything froze. Again. Either WWE was underestimating with it’s “20 percent of our users are still experiencing issues” number, or the company is flat-out lying.
NXT’s promotional special was on the live stream, which is where my WWE Network aspirations ended up. Great show, by the way, and a perfect hype machine for Thursday’s live “Arrival” special. Still, it wasn’t what I wanted, and for a network that’s designed specifically to give fans exactly what they demand anytime, anywhere, it was a bitter disappointment.
At this point, I’m still excited about the potential. I’m stoked about live shows, like this coming Thursday’s NXT special, and original programming like WWE Countdown. But it’s a shame that WWE has decided to use this free week trial like an open beta. I’m not passing judgement yet… I’ll give it at least a week before writing up a proper review. Until then, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
How’s your WWE Network experience so far? Are you enjoying the unlimited streaming library, or hitting the same connection issues as “the 20 percent”? Tell us about it on Facebook and Twitter.