WWE Network 2.0: how WWE rebuilt its streaming service after a split with Disney

The moment Disney betted on its future of transmission on BAMTech was when WWE executives knew they would have to make big changes in WWE Network, the company's subscription video service. Years before, WWE and BAMTech had spent 10 months building the Network, which offers content on demand and linear programming 24/7, before their striking debut at CES 2014 that featured CEO Vince McMahon and numerous WWE superstars.

Having seen BAMTech help create HBO Now, which reliably transmitted Game of Thrones to millions of viewers every week, WWE recruited the company to build a one-of-a-kind service. As part of its monthly subscription of $ 9.99, WWE Network would allow fans to broadcast live the same pay-per-view they had historically paid cable operators up to $ 60 per event to watch. The service combined that tempting deal with the huge WWE TV files and a series of original programs. In April, WWE reported that WWE Network ended the first quarter of 2019 with 1.58 million paid subscribers.

The subscriber count tends to decrease and flow according to the calendar, normally reaching its peak every year around the company event WrestleMania . There are no contracts with WWE Network, which leaves customers free to come and go whenever they want. Even so, the direct shift to consumer transmission has been a triumphant victory for McMahon. Until Disney left and complicated things.

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WWE Network is now easier to navigate and has been enhanced with more enjoyable graphics and chapters for each event.

WWE and BAMTech remained team members until this year when WWE decided to move away from BAMTech after Disney brought on broadcast experts who had helped usher in the sports leagues, including Major League Baseball (where BAMTech began), the PGA and the NHL in the era of mobile transmission. In addition to counting HBO and Hulu among its partners, BAMTech also helped with the development of services such as Sony's PlayStation Vue. But Disney's reason for buying the company was obvious: it wanted to advance its own transmission destination and build an irresistible Netflix rival. So far so good.

WWE knew that the writing was on the wall and had its own reasons for resorting to another part. As co-president George Barrios The Verge said in a recent interview, WWE wanted more control and ownership of the Network's technology stack. "Obviously, I can't speak for what they were thinking. From our perspective , we made the decision unilaterally. They may have been going that way too. But our perspective, once Disney came in and paid the price they paid for BAMTech, we didn't think they were going to be a long-term player in the services business of third parties. I didn't know one way or another, so we were making the call. And that's when we made the decision that it made sense for us to swing. "

  Collision 2018 - Day two

WWE Co-President George Neighborhoods.
Photo by Seb Daly / Sportsfile via Getty Images

A Disney spokesman told The Verge that the decision to divide was mutual and the result of BAMTech ev It solved Disney Streaming Services, which has changed the whole approach to the company's own platforms of Disney +, ESPN + and Hulu. [19659011] "We didn't think they were going to be a long-term player in the third-party services business."

Either way, WWE faced a crucial decision. You could try to take your transmission service, now an important part of the company's results, completely internal under a growing digital product team. The alternative to that bet was to find new partners that would give WWE the greatest control and ownership it sought. "We evaluated it," Barrios said about going alone. But in the end, WWE chose to build a new faction with two other companies, Endeavor Streaming and Massive Interactive, which led to the renewed WWE Network experience that was launched shortly before SummerSlam last month.

Endeavor Streaming is just one (and relatively new) piece of the massive corporation that is Endeavor, which owns IMG, WME, and bought the UFC in 2016. The transmission unit that captured WWE's interest was formed after Endeavor Last year he acquired NeuLion, another company that specialized in high-quality transmission technology. More recently, WWE announced a podcast partnership with Endeavor.

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For the Network, Endeavor Streaming was responsible for managing basic services such as content delivery, transcoding and customer billing. It already performs similar tasks for UFC Fight Pass, the NBA (outside the US), Univision and others. So, the resume to replace BAMTech was strong. I spoke with Endeavor's digital director, Guy Schory, who said the company offers WWE "a level of scale, reliability and customization that we believe is unique in the market at the moment." Schory said Endeavor Streaming "goes well beyond a technology provider" by giving WWE a robust and flexible infrastructure backend that can be customized and adapted to its needs and a content management system capable of handling a vault that spans many decades .

For customer-oriented applications, WWE partnered with Massive Interactive to redesign the entire WWE Network user experience on mobile, PC and TV devices. The Network was completely reviewed with much better search capabilities, better video quality and a new "superstars" section to track WWE artists such as Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns and the rest of the company list. Certain devices running the old WWE network, including some smart TVs, Xbox 360 and PS3, were left behind as of 2.0. That frustrated some customers, but the service now feels more consistent across all platforms, looks much better and is easier to use as a result of the changes. And WWE gained most of the control over everything he wanted.

“Heavy work is less on the side of the video. That is quite simple, "Barrios told me when he discussed the migration from BAMTech to Endeavor Streaming." The most difficult increase is all on the data side. "Pressing reset and having users restart from scratch would have been simpler, but WWE wanted to preserve things like watchlists and account information. "Our ability to iterate through all this, across the stack, has been greatly improved. Therefore, our users will be very, very happy as we continue to implement some of the things we had to withdraw, as well as new features and functionalities. I think they will be delighted. "

Barrios stressed that WWE Network 2.0 is based on standards. It is powered by HTML5, and the video has been updated to 1080p from the previous maximum resolution of 720p, which makes a remarkable improvement to transmit quality on TV screens, laptops and tablets.

Disney, meanwhile, did everything it could during its last weeks working with WWE to ensure a smooth transition. “They were not only great operational partners with us and a large part of our success and of continuing to evolve the product we made, especially the main services. But even once the decision was made that we moved, they were great, ”Barrios said. “They supported us a lot during the interim period, since we were building the new product and they were really, very useful during the transition, which is scary, as you can imagine. Those last days, when we were heading to move, migration, those days of fear and nail biting, and they were great. We made the decision to move, but [they were] incredibly professional. Michael Paull and his team could not speak louder. "

Barrios promoted the relaunch of the network as a success, calling it a difference of" night and day "compared to when the service was first put online. in 2014." It was not as smooth as any of us would have liked. It was not as rigorous, "he said of the original debut five years ago." To leave, and obviously we are at the end of the first inning, but to make the transition as smooth as we did, I think it is a testimony for the team "he said." WWE has this incredibly talented senior team on the product side, on the side of core technology, on the data side, which really drove a new platform that we are very proud of. "

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The new WWE Network application is not without errors, for example, old non-HD content does not occupy the entire screen on iPad Pro devices.

That does not mean that everything is perfect. WWE Network subscribers have noticed that part of the content has disappeared with the redesign. "They are right. There are things that are missing, and that will come quickly, ”said Barrios. Other customers experienced audio / video sync issues after the update, which have since been resolved. The new Superstars section, although useful at a glance, shows videos that are very chronological in order once you select someone. The WWE digital team is working to solve these errors, however small, quickly repaired. Because the next phase of WWE Network is not far away.

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The new Superstars section allows subscribers to track their favorite WWE artists.

A free level will arrive soon, so it is more expensive

WWE wants to include the same free videos that you would see in your mobile application as part of WWE Network everywhere, even on TV devices. “Our free content lived separately from our premium subscription content. They were in different places, "Barrios told me, describing the next free network transmission option." What will come here soon, in weeks and not months, is the beginning of the integration of our free content with our paid content. It will be an integrated experience, and the content that you can access depends only on the level of membership it is. ”

But WWE has bigger ideas for the future, including a premium subscription that could add exclusive content and even add ticket products and components.

  • Free: This will offer the same free videos that you will usually find on WWE.com. Barrios said WWE could also offer timed previews of paid content from WWE Network.
  • Regular: The standard WWE Network experience, which combines free content with subscription benefits such as live live payment, streaming on demand and original programming.
  • Premium: “We believe that there is also the opportunity to serve our most passionate network subscribers with a premium level that will gather more content for them, more features for them and also integrate some of our other services that are not Video as our business: potentially integrating something like free shipping, joining our efforts to issue digital tickets there. It becomes the only place to experience all of WWE. "Barrios did not reveal how much WWE could charge for the premium level.

What about subscriptions through Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Roku?

Subscriptions in the application are the status quo, but companies like Apple, Amazon and Roku have followed a sales model of subscription "channels" that deeply integrate with their own platforms. For now, WWE has no interest in becoming an Apple channel TV or Prime Video. "It becomes a commitment to economy, access to data, things of that nature," Barrios told me. "To be honest, it is not something we receive many comments from our audience, from our fans. It is something we think about. However, at this point, that combination of economy and data is not something we feel comfortable with. ”

Offline downloads are on their way, but WWE is in no hurry for 4K

WWE Network will present offline downloads – "Download To Go", Barrios calls the function, in the near future, allowing subscribers to see Full pay-per-view events or TV shows from WWE, WCW and ECW wherever they choose. The feature has long been one of the main requests of the subscribers. "I spend a lot of time on airplanes with bad Wi-Fi connection," Barrios joked. "So that's my personal characteristic that I definitely want. It has priority on the road map."

But don't expect WWE pay-per-view to make the change to 4K in the short term. The company has tested and captured live events in 4K, but there is still no firm timeline on when it will be able to broadcast the show WrestleMania in 4K and with HDR color.

"4K, I think that will be driven more by the penetration of 4K devices and then by 4K consumption. It seems like it was a century ago, but when we moved to HD about 10 years ago, we wait until around 25 or 30 percent of large screens in homes were capable of HD, "Barrios said." I think similarly, both from the point of view of broadband (5G handling some of it) and the penetration of the large screen of 4K, when we go to 4K it will be driven by that. Up to his point, we have experimented with him, but I certainly would not expect a significant amount of video content in 4K this year. ” Endeavor Schory said the 4K HDR video is on the company's roadmap for this year, so the option will be there when WWE decides it's time.

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A YouTube sensation

With almost 50 million subscribers, WWE is located in the 10 most popular YouTube channels in the world, and the company has no qualms about announcing that achievement. To the spectators of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live! they are regularly reminded that the company has more subscribers than any major sports league.

WWE uploads new videos to YouTube several times a day, including key moments of Raw or SmackDown Live every week, the occasional full match, the top 10 compilations and more. But is it possible to be too much good on YouTube? If you can see the highlights on YouTube, why bother watching Raw in the US? UU. And bear the commercials? WWE has data that shows that some fans prefer their WWE in abbreviated form. "We don't want to lose them," Barrios said. For similar reasons, WWE produces condensed versions of Monday Night Raw for Hulu on demand that reduce the usual run time of three hours.

"It's a balance, and we're really thoughtful. We have a lot of analysis around this about the kind of adjustment so that we maximize it for everyone, us and our partners, and also for our fans," Barrios told me. "We are very good about where the strategy is today, and we have changed it. For most fans, they would not notice, I do not want to be public about what we have changed, but we tried different things." This constant balance of what goes to where it also applies to secondary activities like UpUpDownDown, the channel games directed by Austin Creed (WWE superstar Xavier Woods). "You just have to think about that. What are you trying to achieve with that particular content? That's right as we decided today. It will evolve. That’s the only thing I can guarantee. " Barrios told me: "Now we are, in essence, a source of data, so we are quite sophisticated in how we think about it."

WWE's great move to Fox occurs in October

Preventing YouTube from affecting cable ratings is especially important as WWE approaches its premiere on October 4 on the Fox broadcast network. SmackDown Live will leave the US UU. And he will move to Friday nights at his new home. Fox reportedly paid $ 1 billion to secure the five-year WWE agreement. It is also believed that NBCUniversal agreed a large number to maintain Monday Night Raw the WWE flagship program, right where it is in the United States. "We believe that there is an immense amount of value and also value for our pay-TV partners, and also for our audience, so we believe that live content in the pay-TV package makes perfect sense," Barrios told me. . WWE Network could have altered WWE's traditional pay-per-view revenue, but the company's weekly live programming will remain fixed on the cable in the foreseeable future.

WWE also exploits the possibilities of "expanding the brand" on cable with reality shows such as Total Divas / Total Bellas Miz and Mrs and documentaries. Bill Simmons produced a documentary about Andre the Giant for HBO last year, and ESPN aired a 30 by 30 about wrestling legend Ric Flair. "We are lucky to create a lot of content. And we are very careful with the content that suits where," Barrios said. "It's a constantly evolving Rubix cube. There are multiple dimensions: there is geography, there is platform, there is content, there are different fan segments that you are doing. Therefore, you are trying to do the best you can to optimize all four. But that's our job. "

Even so, having WWE Network plan B undoubtedly helped WWE in negotiations with Fox and the US. UU. Both Raw and SmackDown remain an important qualifying asset for networks, even if the audience has fallen sharply from the days of lightning in which Steve Austin and The Stone Cold Rock They were the faces of WWE. Just listen to Austin's reaction at Madison Square Garden last night in 2019:

More than qualifications, WWE now focuses on "time spent" and other engagement metrics. Like Netflix, in WWE it is not lost that fan attention is more divided than ever, with Fortnite as threatening as other primetime television shows. "Everybody has a thousand pulls in their daily time, so you should be aware of everything and try to be as relevant as possible at all times and on all fronts," said Paul "Triple H" Levesque in a Half call earlier this year.

And WWE is preparing to face its most direct and substantial competition in All Elite Wrestling years. The new company was founded by Tony Khan, son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan (who is the main investor of AEW), and includes former WWE artists Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose and Cody Rhodes, among others. AEW will debut its own weekly live program on TNT next month. In late August, WWE announced plans to move NXT its weekly WWE Network program with the company's most promising young superstars out of service. NXT will become a live program that airs in the United States every Wednesday night at the same time as AEW.

“Welcome to the game. We'll see how it goes, "Barrios said of the arrival of AEW. AEW broadcasts its pay-per-view events in the WarnerMedia Bleacher Report Live application. It is currently unknown how the company could fit into HBO Max. AEW is trying to set level expectations , and some say it is unrealistic to think that the new business will somehow catch up with WWE. But it can be a disruptive factor, and fans expect a new rival to help keep WWE on top of its I play the same way WCW did during the "Monday Night Wars" in the 90s.

As for WWE Network, WWE is at the forefront of the new experience and adding new value whenever possible. He made the short-term objectives very clear: "Even better performance, recover features that could not be there at launch, bring new features like Download To Go, put both levels into operation. s. If for the next SummerSlam we have done all that, we will feel incredible. "

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