Karan PradhanJun 10, 2016 18:00:52 IST
Disclaimer: The following review is presented in its original form. It may contain some content that does not reflect tech2’s corporate views and may not be suitable for all readers. tech2 characters are fictitious and do not reflect the personal lives of the writers portraying them. Reader discretion advised.
Or something like that.
As grandiose and self-aggrandising as it might sound, it really seems wrong to begin a piece on World Wrestling Entertainment or any of its myriad products in any other way than with the customary disclaimer. And now, on with the show…
The WWE Network was launched on Indian shores in November last year — nearly 20 months after its US release — on the back of two first-time-in-13-years live WWE shows in New Delhi. For those not in the know and for want of a better description, the Network is WWE’s equivalent of Netflix. The similarities between the two online video providers include many thousands of hours spread across genres and categories, the provision of exclusive content and the ‘complimentary first month’ offer.
The most obvious dissimilarity is that while Netflix showcases a variety of general entertainment shows and films, the Network focuses on professional wrestling and the goings-on around this form of sports entertainment.
So just what’s on offer?
The short answer is ‘everything’.
The slightly longer answer* is ‘almost everything’.
Let’s deal with the short answer first.
First off, there’s the fact that live events are streamed on the Network as they play out in real-time, which is a nice change from the days of having to wait a few days to catch a repeat broadcast or the present day reality of putting up with repetitive advertisements while trying to watch an event on TEN Sports.
Next up, are the archives. One of the biggest benefits of the WWE’s buyout of one-time rivals World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in 2001 was the fact that it gave the WWE ownership of the back catalogues of both these promotions.
For those with a predilection for nostalgia, there’s plenty to choose from between collections of various eras in professional wrestling history (The rise of the Rock, the Monday Night War and so on), and episodes of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Mid-South Wrestling and other major regional promotions. (A quick refresher: Before WWE chairman Vince K McMahon turned his organisation into a nationwide and later worldwide entity, the accepted practice was for promotions to operate in their own regions and not invading the territories of other promotions). The Network offers a generous slice of content from those regional promotions bought out by McMahon at some point or another.
But before you get the impression that it’s all in-ring action, it’s probably worth pointing out that it’s not. A significant chunk of the programming on the Network includes talk shows that veer from serious discussions (Legends with JBL and the Stone Cold Podcast) to those that focus on anything but (The Edge and Christian Show, for instance), reality shows (Total Divas and the frankly excellent WWE 24) and some stuff that doesn’t quite fit into any conventional category (more on this stuff shortly).
WWE 24 (after referring to it as ‘frankly excellent’, some justification is due) is a presently under-populated series of behind-the-scenes looks at specific events or personalities. It’s been a well-known fact for ages that the battles and rivalries of professional wrestling are choreographed. But it’s only been over the course of this decade that the WWE has truly pulled back the curtain to allow viewers a glimpse into what goes on off-camera — how matches are planned, what the performers are like out of character and so on.
This series takes that concept and runs with it, and the result is a fascinating insider’s look at what goes into the making of a WrestleMania, for instance.
The other gem in the Network’s crown is its ‘South Park meets professional wrestling’ series called Camp WWE, which features Seth Green among its writers. With most of the WWE’s being toned down (read as no profanity, nudity, blood, etc.) to suit a PG audience, there was always the feeling that the organisation needed some avenue down which to vent its foul-mouthed spleen.
Enter Camp WWE.
You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You may even end up ‘awwing’. But so far, this is probably the most fun show on the Network. Which, unfortunately, cannot be said for Swerved. The WWE’s attempt at replicating MTV’s Punk’d (or MTV India’s Bakra, if you prefer) falls flat. There’s little else to say about it.
Which brings us to the slightly longer answer*, and the gaps in the Network’s collection gradually become apparent.
While there’s no arguing the breadth of content available, it’s the depth that’s slightly disappointing. Pay-per-view (PPV) events (you know, the special events where major stuff goes down) are fully archived chronologically. It’s with the weekly shows that the extent of content available suffers with only a smattering of (seemingly more important than the rest) episodes available. With WCW and ECW, it’s even worse with zero episodes from their weekly shows available to watch.
So, you see, it’s almost everything that’s on offer.
And how does it all work?
As with Netflix, the performance of the Network largely depends on the quality and speed of your internet connection. The Network was tested out on the iPad, the Playstation 3 and the PC and most of the difference between the experiences lay in the actual process of getting the damn thing actually started.
On the iPad, you are required to download the WWE app, through which you can click on a tab for the Network and sign in. On the PS3, you need to download the Network app and log in. And on the PC, you simply fire up WWE Network on your browser and log in.
The rest of the process is virtually identical — except in the case of the PS3, wherein searching for specific stuff on the search bar entails the painful process of entering text one letter at a time using the controller.
It’s fairly simple to locate what you are looking for, whether with the drop-down menus or the search bar. The only quibble here is that search results show up chronologically (and only 10 results are shown per page), and unless you are super-specific with your search words, you could be in for a rather protracted effort to find the video you seek.
But, once you’ve sorted that part out, it’s a fairly seamless experience.
Presumably, there are some problems, right?
Unless you have an unlimited cellular data plan, you will probably want to ensure that you’re connected to some sort of Wi-fi network before you start watching, because the WWE Network expectedly consumes a lot of data. Which isn’t all that surprising considering it’s the same with any online video provider.
What is a problem, however, is the fact that in this day and age of smartphones boasting 2K screens, the Network only streams with a resolution of only 720p.
This isn’t that problematic until you consider the pricetag: $9.99 a month, which translates to around Rs 670 or so. Netflix offers three packages, worth Rs 500, Rs 650 and Rs 800 and it’s the last of these that offers videos at 1080p resolution. That this option isn’t available with the Network is slightly disappointing.
Even Good ol’ JR would be disappointed.
So what’s the verdict?
All said and done, the WWE Network is a veritable treasure trove of content, including some gems from the past that you possibly never even knew existed. The WWE has always shown off excellent production values and editing chops with their promotional videos and it’s good to see that these have been brought over to the Network (see the Monday Night War series for a brilliant example of this).
Guest appearances on packages by the likes of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Brian ‘Q’ Quinn of Impractical Jokers (to name but a few) lend the product a sense of wider acceptability — almost like it’s cool again (a rarity since the glory days of the Attitude Era) to be watching WWE.
Apart from the grappling action, some of the original content on offer is excellent and even merits a second or third watch.
However, two questions came up repeatedly during the course of this review.
Firstly, does anyone really need this much professional wrestling?
For aficionados of the ‘squared circle’ and the action within it, this is a chance to watch some of the legends of the ‘sport’ in their pomp, to witness some classic rivalries or alliances develop, to catch some of the legends of the future in the developmental NXT division, or to simply relive timeless moments.
Unfortunately, there’s probably a large percentage of the wrestling-viewing population that falls in the territory of being casual fans, which means that the Network is probably best suited for hardcore fans of this form of sports entertainment.
Secondly, is it worth Rs 670 a month?
Two points need to be made here.
One, most people tend to pay around that much for their DTH television services every month. As noted earlier and for a point of comparison, Netflix offers a whole host of general entertainment content for Rs 500 (for the basic package).
Two, one of the major draws of the Network in the US at least, is that viewers no longer had to pay exorbitant sums of money for individual PPV events and could watch them all for that monthly $9.99 sum.
In India, where viewers have never really had to spend any money (apart from the amount they pay for cable TV) on WWE events, paying Rs 670 — for something they may not watch as often as they would normal TV shows — is not likely to be as attractive a proposition.
To sum up, the WWE Network is highly recommended only to the super-fans of the WWE. For everyone else, there’s a month-long free trial for you to make up your mind.
And that’s the bottom line, because-… well, you know how it goes.
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