It’s tough to believe, but by this time next week, WhatCulture will have held their first iPPV. However, the whole thing seems to have been a shock to some fans.
Last week, we wrote about how some promotions – WCPW in particular – charging lower prices could affect the British wrestling industry in the longer term. It seemed that got quite a few people talking, along with raising yet more questions (hands up who really believes that London was the only venue they could find for a Loaded taping in November…) So you’re probably expecting this to be another “slam piece”, right? Not quite…
So, on the same day as their YouTube channel posted yet-another listicle video -“10 Times WWE Threw Money Down The Drain” – WhatCulture announced the launch of their Extra service. Now, a premium website isn’t a new concept to wrestling fans, with the likes of the Wrestling Observer, the Pro Wrestling Torch and PWInsider – amongst others – charging fans for access to extra content.
There’s a difference between extra content that’s unique, and charging for “more of the same”. For instance, the Wrestling Observer gives you daily news updates and some audio shows for free, whilst the newsletters are all kept behind the pay-wall. PWInsider, meanwhile, offers extra content, timed-exclusives on news stories and audio shows… as well an ad-free website if you pay for their Elite offering.
So, the announcement of WhatCulture’s Extra service gives you, what exactly? The headline features were “free” iPPVs, and access to their Loaded show a day before air. Note the quotes around “free” – their first iPPV, next week, is available for $14.99 via the Fite TV app, or as a part of their Extra service, which is $6.99 a month/$70 a year. Is paying more for a show through a service that’s established and has documented ways to connect from your phone to your TV better than trying out a new service at half the price? For that alone, if you’re a major fan of WCPW and don’t mind watching on your PC, it sounds like a good deal, but what if you’re not? Whilst they were at pains to stress that the premium site wouldn’t absorb any of the usual free content, the fact that the launch video title included the words “exclusive lists” set off alarm bells in my head.
As a journalism graduate, I’m firmly in the belief that these list-based articles are among the laziest form of journalism. Pick a topic. Pick a number. Come up with that amount of items and go. Sure, they have their place; say “my top eight WrestleManias” would work as part of a build-up to WrestleMania, or perhaps when you’re recapping a news story (like, “what we learned from X’s interview”)… but when your home page features “10 times WWE failed at forced emotion”, “5 ways to make WWE’s Womens Division Great Again” or “10 things you didn’t know about Noelle Foley”, the barrel’s positively being scraped. What more can you come up with in terms of premium content there without moving the “newsworthy” stuff to the paid-for pages? Or indeed, without scraping through the bottom of the barrel? To be frank, the lists named as “lists available at launch” weren’t exactly inspired… and not even WatchMojo – one of the kings of listicles on the internet – charge for that stuff!
Listicles aside, the iPPV benefit may be worthwhile… depending on how often they’re run. If the iPPVs are more than once a quarter, then yes, it’s probably worth dipping in. If not, and that’s the only thing you’re after, then you’re probably better off going via the Fite app.
Oh, what else? “More of the same” in terms of their fantasy booking videos, extra documentaries and videos, and live streams of their personalities “reacting” to Raw and SmackDown? Really? So I’d be paying for my satellite or cable subscription to see Raw and SmackDown, and I can pay to see others watching it as well? Or would that be people watching the “reacts” video instead of the show? Back in the day, WWE were far from thrilled with the plethora of “radio shows” offering live stream and coverage on pay-per-view nights; I’d doubt they’d be too happy with this, especially when it’s coming on a paid-for service!
Website benefits are also on offer – no adverts (AdBlock Plus says hi!), and the ability to read those lovely lists as a single page rather than the irritating click-through slideshow format that was designed to inflate page views and revenue.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you’re going to get out of it. If you’re the sort of person who’s always on that website, reading every list as they’re posted, then you’ll probably enjoy it.
That being said, this is not the “WCPW Network”. At least, not at launch. Giving live/on-demand access to iPPVs and the day-early access to their Loaded shows isn’t the same as the WWE Network… however, if those Loaded shows are archived there (and I’d have reason to believe they probably wouldn’t, least of all because of the advertising money that YouTube brings in for Loaded), then we may be onto something.
Is it worth the money? If they’re using a “cancel at any time” mechanic, then only for the $7 , yes… which apparently was another can of worms. In their defence, WhatCulture have promoted their “Refuse to Lose” show as an iPPV from the start – and the launch of this service explains why they were so coy about iPPV availability!
An argument can be made for the company originally starting off Loaded as a free, major show, then watering it down for their “PPV-like” specials, and then again with the introduction of iPPVs. But with the criticism of the promotion being “how on earth are they making money”, something like this had to be expected. YouTube monies will only go so far, you know… especially when YouTube revenues can be taken away on a whim, especially if the fine folks at Google decide that bleeped swearing is bad for business.
My only concern though, is how good the uptake on this is going to be. At time of writing, the launch video had been seen 56,000 times, with over 4,400 dislikes. Considering the fervent fanbase of that promotion, that’s quite the statistic, especially when you look at another of their popular videos from the same week having barely over 250 dislikes from over a quarter of a million views.
Asking people to pay for stuff they once got for free was never going to be a good move. Although the guys behind WhatCulture can argue that “we’re offering new content”, the fact is that most of the new content isn’t distinctive enough. More lists and fantasy booking videos aren’t enough to tempt casual fans to pay… and unless the documentaries and extra videos (like the Eric Bischoff and Damien Sandow/Aron Stevens/Aron Rex Q&As) appear regular, it’ll get stale, fast. Perhaps with a fuller library, like (say) the WrestlePlus service that’s touted during the NGW TV shows, this may be worth your while, but for now, it’s not doing much for me, and I doubt it’d do much for casual wrestling fans who browse their website.
Maybe this isn’t about attracting the “casual fan” to sign-up. Perhaps it’s just aping the apparent WWE model of “getting more money out of hardcore fans”? Only time will tell how effective this whole strategy is…