A little over three years ago, WWE launched their eponymous network – a move that has had repercussions for all of wrestling.

Back before 2014, if you weren’t on TV, then your exposure was minimal at best; limited to live event attendance, DVD sales and word of mouth. Sure, iPPVs were a thing, but they were largely hit and miss, with the fear of technical issues being the reason why I (and no doubt countless others) paid a little extra to ensure access to the on-demand versions of EVOLVE shows.

Flash forward into 2017, and it seems like most mid-level and above independent groups are available to stream in some form. Looking just at the European scene – and apologies to promotions I skimp on the details on here – you have the choice of subscription or a la carte services, with promotions like Revolution Pro putting out shows within 48 hours of them ending. Germany’s wXw prides themselves on a similar turnaround time, whilst also putting out a weekly TV show on their on-demand platform, wXw Now, whilst PROGRESS’ subscription platform usually sees them turn around cards within a week of show-date.

Elsewhere, companies like ATTACK! and Over The Top Wrestling put out their cards on a show-by-show basis, with ATTACK! blowing everyone’s minds lately with a 24-hour turnaround for their “Gorilla Pressed and Deep in Conversation” show – even if it did come with a match missing thanks to WWE requirements… Requirements that, according to speculation, are also leading to Fight Club Pro’s 2017 output being decidedly dark, with their first solo show of the year still not being released online, at time of writing, almost a month later [update: on March 12, Fight Club Pro finally released their first show of the year, “All The Best”, via their Vimeo channel]

You see, in the race to get your product out quickly, promotions have to move quickly or get left in the dust. About a year ago, we bemoaned the fact that several high-level promotions are painfully slow to get on the digital bandwagon. In 2017, not much has changed.

Impact Wrestling (or TNA, depending on what you want to call them), launched their Total Access TNA Wrestling app earlier this year for fans in the UK and Ireland – to replace the fact that they’d gone dark in those countries. For £5 a month, you’d get access to all TNA content; Impact, PPVs, One Night Only events, and their entire back catalogue – not a bad deal if you want to dip in and out of that product. Elsewhere, you’ll need a subscription to the Fight Network – which isn’t available everywhere…

How about Ring of Honor? They still put up weekly shows for free, but only the most recent one. They do have a selection of their past shows online for “Ringside members”, costing $8 a month or $60 a year, but even then that’s not complete, and you’ve still got to pay $15 a go for. That piecemeal approach comes across as nickel and diming fans – who still wouldn’t have access to complete libraries even after buying all 36 VODs and Ringside subscriptions (working out, at present, at over $600 for a year, and you still wouldn’t have access to everything ROH has churned out – new or old!)

Speaking of complete libraries, the arrival of FloSlam late last year certainly seemed disruptive to the marketplace. Arriving for a higher-than-usual monthly fee of $20 (or $150 if you sign up for a year), FloSlam looked to appeal to fans of the EVOLVE promotion by offering their new shows – and back catalogue – for less than what you’d have paid to stream a pair of EVOLVE shows on-demand every month.

Whilst the service is still experiencing teething issues – with complaints of live shows not going up on-demand quickly enough, or back catalogues not being made available within advertised deadlines (the FloSlam sign-up page still reckons that all of the WWN Live shows – i.e. EVOLVE, FIP, SHINE and the WWN Supershows – dating back to 2003 would be up by January 1, 2017. We’re in March and still waiting). Of course, that is a nitpick, as $20 a month is good value for EVOLVE alone, let alone the new content from other promotions they’re showing, such as IPW:UK, wXw and FIP. However, it hasn’t come without it’s issues, least of all on the technical side of things, with numerous complaints over the quality of the website player.

From the fall-out of January’s WWE UK tournament, numerous guys were pulled from shows – with little consistency among it. Whilst EVOLVE had Tommy End as a replacement on a show in late 2016, he couldn’t be aired… yet WWE had no issue with Chris Hero appearing on a publicised brace of farewell shows for EVOLVE. Since then, it’s gotten a little clearer, with the general rule seeming to be: if you’re under a WWE contract, you cannot be shown on FloSlam. IPW:UK and wXw have had to pull guys from shows or make their matches “dark” – with Pete Dunne having been pulled entirely from wXw, whilst his recent IPW:UK appearances have been for the live crowds only.

Considering that WWE actually owns a stake in FloSports – FloSlam’s parent company – this is a bit surprising… but not that much when you figure out that WWE’s also seemingly trying to expand the Network with independent wrestling content, you can see the conflict of interest!

In the age of digital media, on paper at least, it makes sense to give digital distribution a go – particularly if you’re selling your event on DVD anyway. Outlets like Pivotshare, as maligned as they may be amongst certain users, do offer content makers a 70% cut on sales, which isn’t a bad way to go if you’ve already got the file ready to go for DVD pressing. Other outlets like the aforementioned Vimeo also offer you a way to monetize your shows, either in a per-show basis or via subscription, with the likes of PROGRESS, Rev Pro, Southside and wXw capitalising on that.

That being said, digital distribution isn’t for everyone. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla are the example that many people hold up in terms of being the poster boys for sticking to a tried and true practise. Their events in Reseda sell out stupidly quick, with little thought seemingly being given to moving to a larger building. Fair enough, as long as the shows are released quickly… but of course, that’s not the case, as editing the show, pressing it onto DVD and then shipping times create a long lead time. Eventually, that will only serve to frustrate more and more fans, particularly as the surrounding wrestling scene continues to grow.

After all, unless you really want to see a certain match – likely knowing the result – why would you wait weeks for a show to be released on DVD when other promotions are getting their product out within days?

Of course, if you’re a hardcore fan, this has now led to an immense saturation of content. WWE Network for $10 a month, New Japan World for 999 Yen, wXw Now for €9.99, PROGRESS for $7.49, Rev Pro for $8.49, FloSlam for the aforementioned $20 a month… and even HighSpots have their own subscription package for $9.99 a month. Other groups that we don’t cover, like ICW ($6.99) and Preston City Wrestling ($7.49) have subscription services, whilst there’s also an attempt at a catch-all UK service called UK Wrestling On Demand, currently offering Pro Wrestling Chaos, Shropshire Wrestling Alliance (the successor to VII Pro), plus Triple X Wrestling and Ultimate Pro Wrestling for £3.99 a month.

Factor in groups who shun on-demand in favour of PPV-style downloads through Smart Mark video, and all of a sudden, following the scene has never been more accessible… or costly, in terms of time and money, depending on how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go!

In 2017, media is being consumed digitally. If you don’t want hop on board the gravy train, you’re going to be left behind – particularly if expansion is in your plans. Wrestling, like it or not, is a business – and the more people who pay to see your show, the more money ends up in your pocket to improve things. Not that being available online is a magic bullet and will turn your group from the Butlins holiday camp shows to WWE, but as a certain British supermarket once said: every little helps!