Cult of ROH: ROHDNet

Welcome to the final Wednesday Cult of ROH. We’re moving to Friday as of this week, so come back in two days for a preview of this weekend’s ROH shows. We’ve got a lot in store for Cult of ROH: an in-depth look at the Pearce Era DVD’s, PPV reviews, and handling the glorious internet rumor mill. Today’s story is potentially one of the biggest ROH will ever see: HDNet has offered them a TV deal.

HDNet’s owner, Mark Cuban, owns the Dallas Mavericks, has already recruited MMA for his channel, and has wanted pro wrestling on his channel for a long time. When I say Cuban is a huge wrestling fan, I mean the guy is a millionaire that did an angle with Ohio Valley Wrestling just for fun. ROH gave event passes to HDNet employees and has been courting the network for a while, and it’s been suspected since the day Pearce returned that he was hired for his willingness to write a TV-ized wrestling show. Short of Ted Turner, Mark Cuban might be the most supportive owner a wrestling company could find.

Reports suggest that HDNet will pick ROH’s costs, though ROH’s offices have declined to comment. Fans are left to wonder – what costs? If it’s everything they need to broadcast in High Definition, make arenas look professional, license music, streamline content processing and reform their lackluster video production, all with a financial bonus that they’re sure they’ll get in timely fashion, then it’s amazing. Remember that the mere carrot of TV and PPV revenues helped sink ECW. If it’s not most of the above, don’t be surprised if the rumor sinks and ROH plays it like it was nothing. If the offer is robust, though, there are many things to consider.

There’s one cost that could completely change the dynamic of ROH. If HDNet gives the wrestlers a salary (or gives ROH the bank to provide a salary unrelated to gate draws), ROH could leave the DVD market entirely. It’s unlikely, as pumping out event DVD’s is a big revenue stream for them and HDNet completely adopting all of ROH’s overhead is unlikely in the sheer scope of its charity. But even getting a regular payscale to the roster the way a network traditionally pays a cast of actors could mean completely gearing production towards the one-hour TV program, and an even more serious swing towards a simplified and shortened in-ring style. Or the wrestling business could show its typical colors, guys will be paid in the same old way and be pressured to change anyway.

The recent upgrade to production (which you’ll see on Rising Above at the end of the week) is far from High Def. It would mean a lot just for ROH to get high definition production out of the deal. But that will also necessitate seriously upgraded lighting and venue aesthetics. On cheap DVD’s with low quality resolution and lighting you can’t tell, but live even with tarps and limited set construction it’s very obvious most of these shows take place in school gyms. HDNet will also need to help produce a professional aesthetic in most venues, short of places like the Hammerstein Ballroom.

Better cameras and set design aren’t the end, either. If you want to look respectable you’re going to need professional production. Simplified video cutting is something indy fans overlook, but ROH needs even more dramatic camera angles and a better sense of how to swap between them for the best shot of any given motion. And away from the action, there is no way ROH can continue to use their current level of video packages. Even the best of the new ones will look embarrassing on TV, and stuff like the Up For Grabs commercial circulating on recent DVD’s absolutely cannot fly. More than set design, ROH could use professional producers on its video editing.

Then there are miscellaneous concerns.

How will ROH deal with commercial interruptions? (Answer: HDNet doesn’t have them; it’s a premium channel with commercials tabbing at the end of programs).

Who will attract kids? (Answer: HDNet isn’t a kids channel).

How do you do ROH in an hour? (Answer: proper pacing. Pulse Glazer did a long feature on it on this very site, OVW had one of the best TV shows out there in 2005 at one hour, and ECW might be the best WWE TV right now at just an hour with mostly rookie talent).

One concern has been overlooked. You put ROH on cable and they’re going to need a drug testing policy. As much as you may love what the wrestlers do, it’s a hard business. Some of the guys have pretty crazy physiques for their size, and the toll their style takes on their bodies suggests at least a few have some chemical help. All snickering about bacne and pot leaf tattoos aside, ROH on national TV means the attention of regulators as well as casual fans.

It’s mostly speculation this week, even if there is no greater story than a nibble on a TV deal. Even with fears that the sky will fall (as it was supposed to when PPV didn’t expand their business, when Sapolsky was fired, and when Pearce’s first shows weren’t amazing), most of you know the real concern: do you even get HDNet?

Thanks for joining us on Wednesdays. Hope to see you in Cult of ROH’s new Friday spot.

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