On Wrestling: Is WWE vs. Dish Network fact or fiction?



Submitted by Ben Miller

Back when I wrote with a writing partner, we used procrastinate a lot in the afternoons.  (Maybe this is why one of the top comedy guys in Hollywood is named Christopher and not Benjamin.)  Our favorite procrastination activity was watching ESPN's afternoon lineup, and our favorite ESPN afternoon lineup gimmick was "Coors Light Cold Hard Facts".  The gimmick involved some ex-jock making predictions by saying "fact" or "fiction".  It was glorious and we began to integrate it into our daily lives (much to the chagrin of girlfriends, baristas and call center representatives).

Here, then, is the first of what might become a series (provided that I finally kick that procrastination bug):  Pro Wrestling Fact or Fiction.  Just as with ESPN's "Coors Light Cold Hard Facts", none of this is fact, much of it is fiction and all of it is speculation.

Fact or Fiction: Dish Network will not offer Elimination Chamber this Sunday

Fact

As with any negotiation, the party with more to lose loses.  So who has more to lose? Dish Network has very little to lose.  Their audience is 15 million subscribers. Those subscribers tend to be three things: rural, low(er) income and cheap. The rural and low income part may dovetail with WWE’s pay-per-view audience, but not the cheap part.

Dish Network's big draw isn't that they offer tons of fancy sports and events.  It's that they have the best DVR, the best integration with SlingBox and the best price.  In fact MLB Extra Innings (Major League Baseball's out-of-town cable/satellite package) was kicked off Dish years ago when MLB Advanced Media (the same company providing WWE Network's infrastructure) refused to price their online service (MLB.tv) at the same levels.  In short, WWE ain't gettin' on Dish unless the pay-per-view price drops to $9.99.

WWE also has very little to lose at this point.  The company is all about the Network right now, not pay-per-view.  They may lose buys by losing Dish, but they'll live.  The bigger stakes for WWE are for WrestleMania.  When neither party has a lot to lose, neither party caves in.  That's what will happen this week.

Fact or Fiction: Dish Network is being counterproductive

Fiction

If WWE is losing by losing Dish for the Elimination Chamber, then Dish Network is losing, too.  But that's nothing for them.  Every three months, Dish Network draws revenues that are double the entire value of WWE.  Read that again.  The entire WWE is worth less than what Dish earns in the time it took for CM Punk to go from white-hot to just-another-guy in 2011.

What would really hurt Dish is if WWE Network set a precedent that content providers can push around Dish.  What if HBO told Dish that HBOGo was going to be available over the top for $9.99/month?  Or if over-the-top AMC were $7.99/month?  Or the ESPN family at $19.99/month?  Why would I keep subscribing to Dish?  Why would anyone?  They aren't Comcast.  They don't have a strong broadband Internet offering.  If bundled television services die, then Dish becomes an endangered species.  The only thing counterproductive Dish could do is offer WWE pay-per-views for more than $9.99, thus allowing WWE Network to undercut them.

Fact or Fiction: WWE pay-per-views will eventually get back on Dish Network, but at $9.99

Fiction

Vince McMahon can be a stubborn man.  MLB Advanced Media (BAM) is an aggressive company.  Those are the two principals behind WWE Network and it will take a heck of a lot for those companies to acknowledge defeat. If the Network's subscriber base ends up being 50,000 instead of 1 million, that could do it.  If TNA gains its bearings and starts drawing a 2.0 every week, that could do it.  Or time might do it.  Maybe after a few years WWE's pay-per-view sales at the current price levels will be so minuscule that $9.99 will seem like an attractive price point.  Maybe, but it's a long shot.

The Network will fall short of 1 million monthly subscribers, but will be high enough (200,000-plus by the end of the year) that WWE will stick with it.  TNA may improve its ratings, but WWE's ratings will improve even more once pay-per-view becomes de-emphasized (assuming Daniel Bryan remains hot).  The Dish/BAM relationship is also instructive.  When a Dish customer asks about ordering MLB Extra Innings, Dish sends that customer to MLB.tv.  Dish will do the same with customers who complain about missing WWE pay-per-views.  "Go buy the Network", they'll say.

Fact or Fiction: Dish Network will offer WrestleMania XXX

Fiction

WWE will be unhappy.  Many Dish customers will be unhappy.  And Dish Network will lose out on up to $3 million.  But that's where this thing is going.  WWE can't offer WrestleMania for $9.99.  They just can't.  There just aren't enough potential buyers to make up for the lost revenue from all of those lost $69.99 buys.

Dish Network can't allow WrestleMania for more than $9.99.  It would set the precedent that content providers are allowed to offer the same Internet content for less money than Dish charges for it. Yours truly is a Dish Network customer and yours truly probably was going to buy WrestleMania XXX for $69.99 through Dish Network.  (Gotta wait at least one year before I trust WWE Network after all the times MLB.tv has let me down on Opening Day.)  That looks like fiction now. And WWE better have prepared for the facts of a pay-per-view world without Dish Network’s 15 million customers.

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