WWE Network, the standalone video service from World Wrestling Entertainment, won’t be going it alone for much longer — at least in the United States. Today, WWE and NBCUniversal announced that the service, which offers live streams of pay-per-view events, a large roster of original shows, and a massive vault of past WWE programming, will be integrated into Peacock starting in March. The US version of the WWE Network app will be shut down as part of the deal, which The Wall Street Journal is putting at over $1 billion.
The new tag team results in positives on both sides: WWE will find itself with a wider streaming audience after seemingly hitting a ceiling on WWE Network growth, and Peacock gets a differentiator in the direct-to-consumer streaming wars. For people that currently have both services, well, this move will be a rare case where streaming gets less complicated.
(Disclosure: Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is also an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.)
Peacock will launch WWE Network on March 18th — in time for both Fastlane later that month and a two-day WrestleMania 37 in April — and is promising to bring over all of the content to which current WWE Network subscribers have access. That’s no small migration, since we’re talking about decades’ worth of pay-per-views, weekly shows like Monday Night Raw and SmackDown, and original efforts like Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions.
Starting in 2022, WWE says subscribers can expect “one signature documentary annually.” In 2020, those documentaries included Edge: The Second Mountain — detailing the wrestler’s return after nine years out of the ring — and Undertaker: The Last Ride. Presumably smaller efforts like WWE 24 and Chronicle will continue to come at a more regular pace. Last year, WWE launched a free tier of the network, and it seems some of that content will also be making its way to Peacock’s free plan.
The “WWE Network” branding will remain present on Peacock. WWE Network will be available on both Peacock’s premium ($4.99 per month) and ad-free ($9.99) plans, so current subscribers of the wrestling service, which costs $9.99 monthly, will actually be saving money if they opt for the $4.99 option. WWE and NBCUniversal will share more details on the transition closer to the March 18th date. I’m very curious about how this will all come together in the Peacock app in terms of UX. Will WWE fans have to navigate through a bunch of screens to reach whatever pay-per-view they want to watch?
The 24/7 WWE Network was launched at CES 2014. Its biggest selling point was the inclusion of live pay-per-view events — something fans would normally pay $50 or $60 a pop for — as part of the much cheaper monthly subscription. The service underwent a major redesign in 2019. Subscriber totals have typically peaked around the company’s marquee WrestleMania event each year and then tapered off in other months. It ended the third quarter of 2020 with 1.549 million subscribers. The service has eclipsed 2 million customers at times but has never managed to maintain that base.
By comparison, Peacock has already reached nearly 22 million users, but it’s not clear how many of those are paying subscribers. Either way, WWE no longer has to sweat its streaming numbers now that WWE Network will be just one part of Peacock. WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon had previously said he was open to shaking up the company’s streaming model if the right deal came along. And chief revenue officer Nick Khan essentially telegraphed this move back in October, saying “we still believe in the potential for a transaction that enables WWE to reach a larger audience and realize a greater economic return.” He added that WWE was “in constant dialogue with companies domestically and globally about potentially licensing the network to them.” And now here we are.
There will be no changes to the international version of WWE Network, which will continue operating as it does today. The WWE Network deal is separate from WWE’s big-money TV contracts with NBCUniversal (for Monday Night Raw and NXT) and Fox, which airs SmackDown Live on Friday nights. Episodes of all those shows will available on WWE Network after their normal TV window.