The WWE Network To Feature More Original Series, Lots More

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George Barrios and Michelle Wilson spoke with Variety in a new interview discussing the WWE Network’s one-year anniversary. Check out the highlights:

Barrios on people telling them that they couldn’t innovate something like this: “We kept being told how hard it is for incumbents to innovate because they make so much money in their current business models. For any legacy business under the threat of disruption, the challenge is to get from one room with all the profit to another room where so many innovators are setting up shop. For us, what really crystallized (the decision to launch the network) was the courage you need to stick to your convictions and push through. That’s what makes people successful: the willingness and ability to navigate the scary hallway.”

Wilson on balancing the Network with existing distribution deals: “Direct-to-consumer is the future but you can’t sacrifice your existing deals…[it] should not come at the expense of other models. We are very keen on making sure our content that goes (to NBCU’s USA Network and Syfy, for example) delivers a certain value. We enjoy our partnership with NBCU. We nurture that partnership very delicately.”

Wilson on their PPV deals: “We worked hard to maintain those relationships so (fans) still have the choice to buy on pay-per-view platforms.”

Wilson on getting on more devices: “We’re going to continue to be very aggressive and be wherever people are…We didn’t approach this as OTT is the only model.”

Wilson on learning how to market the service: “Sampling and free is the best marketing tool there is. It wasn’t an easy conversation to have with (WWE chairman Vince McMahon). To tell him we need to give away a pay-per-view took some convincing. But just because we talk about (the network), doesn’t mean the fans know what it is. Fans don’t necessarily understand what it is or how it works.”

Barrios on partnering with MLB Advanced Media for the technology to launch the Network: “You’re better off being an integrator than a builder. Over-the-top has the connotation that you’re doing it all on your own, but you need to integrate best of breed partners to help you do what you need to do to support (the distribution) of video all around the world.” While some companies are still evaluating that approach, “Our learning is just because you partner, it’s still your product and your consumers.”

Barrios on balancing the live offerings with VOD TV programming: “WWE tends to live in both worlds.”

Wilson on learning that their subscribers most watching on VOD, many on mobile devices: “That was an aha moment for us. A lot of our fans aren’t going to watch a three-hour pay-per-view if they’re watching on their phones in between their breaks at work. Short form content will play a larger role. I don’t think we would have known that going into this.”

Wilson on having more data about watching habits: “All of our partnerships in the past have been at arm’s length. Now we have all the data.”

Barrios on continuing to grow and improve the service: “We’re still testing and learning. When you’re building transformative initiatives, everything’s in the public eye. That’s just part of doing it in the public domain. You just don’t turn the switch on and have people subscribe. It’s a lot of hard work.”

Wilson on new original shows: “We have an aggressive slate when it comes to new original series.”

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