WWE Network: Early Impressions and Review After Launch

David Bixenspan@davidbixFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2014

WWE Network demonstration at Las Vegas announcement.
WWE Network demonstration at Las Vegas announcement.Credit: WWE.com

WWE Network launched yesterday in the United States and while there have been some technical issues that should be resolved soon enough, what the service itself offers is pretty impressive.  How does it measure up so far?  Let's take a look:

Main 24/7 Network Stream: I figured I'd have it on in the background for the heck of it, but I'm really enjoying it, certainly much more than I expected.  The new shows have been a mixed bag so far (WrestleMania Rewind is very good, WWE Countdown not as much), but being able to mindlessly have old Raws, the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels sitdown interview DVD, and so on playing in the background while I work or try to go to sleep is really nice to have.

One of the more pleasant additions was the Raw Pre-Show.  While it may get less novel as the weeks go on, it was a really nice twist on the pay-per-view kickoff shows that made both Raw as a show and the wrestlers themselves come off a lot more important.  I was glad to see them in the arena acknowledging that Superstars was being taped, showing much of the Kofi Kingston vs. Damien Sandow match.  Kingston's post-match interview, conducted by Jerry Lawler on the older school WWF interview podium, added an air of importance to the proceedings.

Archival Content and On-Demand Library: While it's hard to judge it completely accurately since there are still some technical issues (see below), this is pretty great as expected, especially when it comes to the pay-per-view events that make up the vast majority of the library right now.  Plus, as we'll discuss shortly, these issues will be fixed very soon.

Something that needs to change immediately is that right now you can't stop a show and restart it later like you can with Netflix and other services.  WWE Network doesn't remember your place in a show. Some shows (especially bigger and more recent ones) have chapter breaks at the opening bells and finishes, but that should be a bonus feature in addition to bookmarking.  This needs to be changed as soon as possible, as it's by far the biggest issue from a functionality standpoint.

One odd note is that there is a decent amount of programming available that's not listed in the "Vault" section.  It looks like WWE wants to wait until certain shows air on the main WWE Network stream before they're added to The Vault, but they're still playable.  If you find something not in The Vault in the schedule or the search engine, you can play it like any other on demand video.  For example, searching for Bruno Sammartino yields Old School episodes (headlined by Bruno matches vs. Ken Patera, Randy Savage and others) not available through The Vault.

Technical Issues: As I write this, we're barely past a day into the seven day free trial period.  There are still technical issues, but I don't see it as a big deal for now.  If there are still major problems next Monday, when we start to pay, then we can start to worry.  MLB Advanced Media, the company behind the technical end of the network, even has issues with opening day of MLB.TV before being pretty much flawless for the rest of the season.  Having said that, I've seen zero complaints about the main 24/7 network stream since yesterday afternoon. 

The most common complaints I've been seeing that have persisted into day two are:

  • Xbox 360 users have largely reported being unable to log in.
  • Errors & freezing for on demand content, more so with more "obscure" content and less on the website but not necessarily as a rule.
Being key parts of the service, I'd expect these to be fixed as soon as humanly possible.  Obviously any kind of ongoing issues after the trial, or really past the early days of the trial, would be a very bad thing for WWE, especially with WrestleMania on the horizon.  I'm not sure how many people will be watching NXT Arrival, but as the first full live show on WWE Network, it's a big test.
For the Xbox issues, I've been told by WWE that they should be fixed by now.  As for the latter issue with the on demand library, Joey Styles of WWE.com has tweeted it's going to be fixed by 6 PM ET today (Tuesday February 25th):

We're experiencing technical issues with @WWENetwork’s video-on-demand library.Working with MLBAM,we expect to have this resolved by 6PM ET.

— Joey Styles (@JoeyStyles) February 25, 2014
Plans Change: At the initial announcement of WWE Network last month, it was said that their "complete home video library" would be available.  That led to a lot of speculation as to how extensive it would be, but there was no sign of it at launch.  The documentary portions of DVD releases are being added one at a time as episodes of Beyond the Ring, but that's it.  As for Joey Styles' tweet saying that the entire run of ECW TV shows would be available, which I mentioned in my WWE Network guide, that also turned out not to be the case.  Both are disappointing developments.
Picture Quality: Uniformly excellent.  The newer 720p HD content is comparable to or better than 720p programming on cable, and the older standard definiton shows that make up most of the on demand library look as good as they ever will.  WWE has clearly taken a lot of care with the older stuff, upconverting it to HD and using a sufficiently high data rate, so it looks much better than standard definition programming on cable and some other online services like Hulu Plus.

Device Support: After an odd lead-up to the launch where WWE didn't make it clear that AppleTV and/or Google Chromecast (both of which were included in press kits at the network announcement) were supported, it turns out AppleTV is, and Chromecast isn't.  Well, sort of: You can capture any tab in Chrome and cast it to your Chromecast, but there's no native support like there is for Netflix, YouTube, etc.  As it stands now, with Chromecast out of the picture, if you need a WWE Network-supported device, the $50 Roku LT is by far the best value and plays nicely with both HDTVs and older standard definition TVs.

Other Notes: My understanding is the Sony Playstation 4 is the only device without a search feature even though it's the most powerful one and the easiest of the game consoles to program for.  This is really strange.  The lack of remote support makes it less convenient than other devices, anyway, but I can't understand why the app is built this way.

While it was promised that all shows will be available on demand as soon as they end, Raw Pre-Show and Raw Backstage Pass are nowhere to be found.  There's not even a section for the pre & post-game shows.  They're pretty disposable, but it's still disappointing.

The search feature is pretty awesome and will only get better, as you can search by wrestler, event and even moves/key moments like "moonsault" or "World's Strongest Slam."  This could turn into one of the coolest parts of the network.

Overall, if the issues clear up very soon as expected, they're off to a great start and I'm very much looking forward to NXT Arrival as the first "real" live event on the network.

David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader since 2011 and also writes for Figure 4 Weekly, available to F4WOnline.com subscribers along with other content, including the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and a variety of audio shows.  His brand new article about the 20th anniversary ECW's "Night the Line Was Crossed" show is featured in issue No. 103 of Fighting Spirit Magazine, available online internationally and at newsagents in the UK.