Wrestling With Television the ‘Net


You could say that at one point in time, the IWC helped the popularity of wrestling on television. The wrestling explosion of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s couldn’t have been timed better with the internet explosion. Both formats went mainstream in a big way, wrestling might have waned in the past few years in popularity in comparison to the internet, but a large part of that boom could be credited to the internet and the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community). People liked what they saw (or hated it) and they wrote about it, and don’t think that the Big 3 weren’t reading either.

WCW was constantly changing their storylines to swerve the internet crowd. Or the WWE acknowledging rumors that were running around, or ECW keeps it’s viewing audience afloat of what time their show was going to air next. It was an exciting time for wrestling on the internet, it felt like the IWC could interact with the Big 3 to a small degree.

But that was all on our side (for the most part), the viewers side. What about from the promotions side? ECW embraced the internet the most, with their Cyberslam internet only PPVs. WCW tried one too, L.A. Melee, but I don’ think anyone went for it. The WWE started offering their PPVs streaming over the ‘net, but each month you would hear about problems with the feeds and mass amounts of people receiving refunds for their wasted time and effort.

Fast forward a few years and it’s the summer of 2005. ECW is gone, WCW is gone, the F became the E, and someone named TNA is making a whole lotta noise down in Florida. You’d think in the time that elapsed, the wrestling promotions have taken full advantage of this medium to not only keep their fans happy with as much content as possible, but also put a little extra cash in their pockets.

TNA went dark for a few months between the Fox Sports deal and the Spike TV deal. They responded with putting their shows online for download, which was a great idea. It was unprecedented. A major wrestling promotion could d it on their own without a TV deal. Well, not exactly. TNA being new to the internet party, bundled their show with a flash video player, which doesn’t carry much of a standard cross-platform and won’t play on portable media players to boot. It’s a downloadable file, and that’s a plus; but it can’t be burned to a DVD and brought into the living room (or wherever you watch TV), where the wrestling experience generally occurs. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the effort at first, but it was a little lacking.

After realizing the mistake of attempting to introduce a new media player to people’s computers, TNA yanked the downloadability from their shows and went streaming with Real Networks’ Real Player. I’m not sure if this was just to be different from the big white E’s use of Windows Media Player, but I sure know that I don’t have anything from Real Networks installed on my system. This meant having to download a second application just to watch iMPACT while it wasn’t on TV. Again, the thought is there, but it was like getting Majora’s Mask for N64 when I was told I was going to get the Wind Waker for Gamecube.

Again, we’re still not able to sit down and watch it on the TV. If you’re watching TNA on your computer, I’m doubting you’re watching it from beginning to end without something else demanding your attention. Unless you’ve hacked your XBOX to watch live internet video streams (which works great by the way). And now that TNA’s back on TV, we don’t get our online content anymore. Was the internet show just a necessary evil for the time being? All their content has been taken down and PPV promo videos remain as the only video media on their site.

Word has been coming in that TNA will begin to offer their PPVs online in 2006, which is a bit behind the times. But one day perhaps they’ll catch up.

Now, let’s turn this criticism cannon on the big white E, shall we?

While coming closer to the mark for internet content (read: IPTV), the WWE falls short as well. Heat and Velocity, since being booted from cable, have been relegated internet-only shows for us American folk. While they both have the length of iMPACT, neither has the importance, so the shows can be excused that they are in the WWE’s standard Windows Media Player streaming video.

RAW is starting to integrate the computer into the watching experience. WWE.com broadcasts during the commercials. They also picked up the first hour of Smackdown! when it was pre-empted for the Hurricane Katrina relief concert. They include exclusive interviews, they stream their PPVs, and highlight clips from all the shows. On top of that, Byte This has been a staple program from the WWE for years despite an obvious lack of attention to it’s standard of quality programming.

I know it seems like I’m being harsh on the promotions, but there’s a point to all of this (I swear).

There’s a common theme here and that’s OWNERSHIP. TNA and the WWE want you to know that they control all of their own content. Never do you get to decide where you want to watch it, or how you get to watch it. You watch it on your computer and it’s at the mercy of their upload bandwidth. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting Verizon’s FIOS to your curb, you’ve gotta share your video connection with the guy next door with a crappy DSL connection.

Buffering… Buffering… Buffering…

The E and TNA haven’t embraced the new wave of technology via the internet. Download speeds have gone through the roof and the demand for higher quality broadcast via the ‘net has as well. It’s not like after looking around online for a little while you couldn’t find torrent files of this weeks RAW, Smackdown! and iMPACT. You’ll probably be able to find any recent PPV as well. But this is all pirated information.

I understand that they can’t just give their shows away for free. After all, they need to make money on a weekly basis. And recently an opportunity to do that has arisen underneath both companies noses and they don’t even realize it.

Apple’s announcement of iTunes 6 which features PAID VIDEO DOWNLOADS opens up a huge opportunity for both companies. Imagine paying an annual fee or a weekly fee for the ability to download and OWN that weeks programs. Not only that, but you’d OWN that program as well. You could watch it at your leisure, without being in fear it will be taken down from a website, load it onto your iPod and watch it whenever.

Wrestling’s never been on the cutting edge of technology (has there EVER been an HD wrestling broadcast? I rest my case), and there’s a huge opportunity here that I unfortunately think neither company will capitalize on.