It finally happened. What started as an idea for a whole TV channel devoted to WWE and its assorted libraries, has finally come out into the wild as an online pay by the month on demand application. Now a few days removed from buying it and going through some of the archived footage, it is safe to say that this is a very solid service that I am actually quite happy to make the commitment to. It’s obviously not perfect, and there are things that can use improvement, but for now let’s go into what I think of it in its current state.
I actually managed to snag my subscription about an hour after the service came out, which was apparently hard to do. WWE didn’t seem to adequately prepare itself for the rush of people wanting to purchase their access to the service at launch. The servers were slow, when they even worked at all, and I had to refresh and enter my information in several times. Even when I finally did manage to purchase my sub, the confirmation crashed. So I was not really sure at first if I had access. On top of all of this, my confirmation email did not come to me for several hours after the purchase did indeed go through, forcing me to worry if I was going to be charged more than once.
However those worries were eventually put to rest and I was able to access the network, for the first time through my laptop. Just getting to the network itself from the WWE website is not the easiest thing in the world. Nothing on the main page really helps you out, except the tiny button on the upper right-hand corner that really seems more like a link to BUY access to the WWE Network. Although, once I figured out that was what I should be clicking, I got dumped right into the live feed, which worked surprisingly well. The feed was crisp, the image sharp, and everything was going smoothly. I believe they were showing the Rivalries: Bret Hart/ Shawn Michaels DVD. I have seen that several times though. What I really wanted was what WWE was touting as one of the marquee features: access to the complete Pay-Per-View library. That was always the real make or break deal for me, so after watching about 2 minutes of the live stream, I went to go digging in the archives.
WWE did not disappoint. Maybe I am used to such big features being pushed back due to over-promising, but I was a bit shocked. It was all there. From 1985 onward, the entire library of WWE PPV content, a huge dropdown list. While completely ugly in terms of presentation it was all there. I immediately went to the late 90’s, and chose a PPV I didn’t think many people would try watching so fast, Valentines Day Massacre. This is where it kind of went to hell.
While all the content was there, none of it could really be watched. Everything would freeze after a few minutes, if it even worked at all. I tried this with several PPV’s, as well as some of the other content WWE had from WCW and ECW, nothing worked. Annoyed, but halfway expecting this to happen, I shut off the WWE Network for a couple of days, and decided to give them time to get their crap together. While it seems the live stream has been perfect this entire time, it was really not what I was there for.
Although it didn’t work at first, that has since changed. For the last two days I have been able to watch any piece of archived content on the WWE Network and it works perfectly. So while it had a rocky start, it was not surprising, and everything got up to speed very fast. This holds true for both the PC and PS3 versions of the WWE Network, which have been the only ways I have watched any of the content. Now that is appears the stuff that is supposed to show on my screen actually shows however, it is time to address some of the more…control-based problems the WWE Network is suffering from.
First of all, the options for sorting content on the PC is not good. It seems to be limited to just sorting by year, while the other way seems to be the case on the PS3, with no way to sort except by actual event. These things need to come together, as I expect they will, once everything is ironed out. That isn’t bad though, just needs improvement. What is bad though, horrible even is the search function. There are absolutely no filters. Typing in…Stone Cold Steve Austin for example will get you every match, every promo, in no order, with no way to filter that down except by figuring out exactly what you want to type. The search option desperately needs checkboxes for matches, promos, specific events and years.
There are some other things that need work as well. WWE Pay-Per-Views are large affairs, usually running at least 3 hours. The WWE Network does not allow you to pick up what you were watching, where you left off if you couldn’t get through it all in one sitting. While there are copious bookmarks that allow you to get back into the vicinity of where you were, they should really allow me to pick it up from the second I left off, without me doing the work.
Lastly, while the PPV archive is amazing, I really want WWE to go back and get all of their normal TV shows, as well as the WCW shows onto the service. I know it is a massive undertaking, especially with Raw and Smackdown, but it would be worth it. The PPV events are often the culmination of long-running storylines in pro-wrestling and to a degree, without the TV shows to fill in the story points, a lot of the tension that made the PPV matches so satisfying in the first place is lost. Like right now I have the 1998 Survivor Series paused on my laptop. Vince McMahon is in a wheelchair, and I have no idea why. Sometimes the PPV’s will give us flashbacks that show what has happened, but in this case, I can only assume it is because of Stone Cold, as Vince wants to really hurt Stone Cold. I guess that it nitpicky, and is really a secondary goal, but it is one I would love to see realized.
Really all things considered, the WWE Network is an impressive package that will only get better with time. The massive library of Pay-Per-View content will be able to hold people over for a while, while the original content and more archived footage gets put up on the service. Also once we start getting the live Pay-Per-View events on the service, starting with Wrestlemania 30, I am sure that is when it will click for nearly everyone on how this is worth the money.