Newsday.com presents: “WWE Network must grow, not gut, Monday Night Raw, says ex-ESPN exec” by Josh Stewart

wwe-network LOGONewsday.com presents: “WWE Network must grow, not gut, Monday Night Raw, says ex-ESPN exec” by Josh Stewart

On Monday night, one of WWE’s current Superstars, CM Punk, teamed with one of its greatest tag teams of the past, the New Age Outlaws. The Outlaws turned on Punk, leaving him to be pummeled by the dastardly Shield on USA’s Monday Night Raw.

Therein lies perhaps the biggest risk of the soon-to-debut WWE Network: that fans will turn on today’s content and just focus on the treasure trove of historical goodies — which will include every pay-per-view ever produced by WWE, WCW and ECW.

In an article on WWE.com listing nine facts you need to know about the WWE Network before it launches on Feb. 24, the company pushes the edgier content of yesteryear.

“If you fondly remember a time before WWE went TV-PG, WWE Network will include Attitude Era content in all its grimy glory,” the article says. “That’s unrestrained, uncensored and unedited, just the way you remember it. In other words, you can ease up on the bootleg YouTube searches, call your middle-school buddies over and relive the moments that made you go scream, ‘Oh hell yeah!’”

Larry Mann, a former vice president of sales with ESPN who is now executive vice president of business development for Chicago-based sports marketing company Revolution, is intrigued by the WWE Network concept. But he also cautions that building the online network at the peril of its core TV product is a risk. The network will also offer its pay-per-views along with so much other content for $9.99 a month.

Mann wonders if the oversaturation of content will lead to an “erosion” of TV ratings.

“Or, does it maybe potentially help boost USA TV ratings because with the digital component they’re able to expand and broaden their awareness?” Mann said. “Maybe it becomes a win-win and this becomes a secondary tool to drive a higher awareness for the product.”

Mann and Revolution were once involved with TNA Wrestling when it tried to get off the ground on cable TV via Fox Sports Net.

“We were the eighth stepchild trying to compete against a 400-pound gorilla,” he said of dealing with a product competing with WWE. He’s impressed enough with WWE to deduce that the company did its homework to best mitigate the risk.

“I’m sure they [WWE] had plenty of conversations with USA prior to doing this,” Mann said. “My guess is they took the research that they did, and when they walked in to USA Network and pitched that this is the direction that they’re going to go, was that they could help grow the vehicle rather than continue the slide.”

Monday Night Raw ratings are not what they were during the Attitude Era, partly due to creative direction but also a general ratings dilution all of TV has dealt with due to the proliferation of channels. Mobile content has only increased that issue. Mann thinks if WWE doesn’t gut its TV product by providing too much online, the “360 degree” platform WWE provides could be attractive as an advertising package.

“The TV-everywhere concept in many cases is to try to appeal to the youth,” says Mann, who helps brands make media buys. “Not only youth, but also technical-savvy individuals that may not watch as much television but they’re on the go and they have an interest in a product like WWE. This just allows them broaden their reach. As a media buyer like myself, this is the challenge we face, to help brands. Now, let’s say I have a brand that’s interested in exploring a partnership with WWE. Well, depending on the brand’s objectives and who they’re trying to target, now I have a whole new way to go about it.”

— Josh Stewart (josh.stewart@newsday.com)

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