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WWE: My life with the WWE Network -- a story of joy, pain and fiddling around


My story begins on February 24, 2014: the day the WWE Network finally arrived!

Much had been said and written about it to that point, it had been the topic of even more discussion and analysis throughout the wrestling and even the media industry. A mysterious WWE Network had been announced, delayed and changed up for a while now and at one point, even was scheduled as an actual television network (and actually was turned into one, at least in some markets). Plus, WWE was basically giving up on PPV as a revenue stream and was entering a new era, trying to become the sports-entertainment equivalent of Netflix and hoped that this new business model would stick and herald in a new golden era, showering the McMahons and WWE stockholders with more money than even during the glory years of the Attitude Era (well, if it hadn't been for the XFL, but that's another issue for another day).

For me, as a fan living in central Europe, it mainly meant one thing: not having to jump through burning hoops and – even if not strictly illegal by the letter of law where I live –not having to go to questionable lengths in order to watch WWE's PPVs in low quality on a live stream (or downloading them the next day). Plus, I'd be able to watch all the old PPVs and many other shows I had never seen, others that I hadn't seen since I was a kid and all the new shows that would be coming. Also, I could just have the live stream on in the background while working and watch a mix of old and new stuff at my heart’s desire that way. This was going to be fun!

Prelude – skip if you're an ignoramus who doesn't appreciate a good arc of suspense

But why, at a time where PPV had been around for decades, would I even have to go on streaming sites for that kind of stuff –except, if I was a cheap bastard?

Well, I’m not. During the mid-90s I even actually made my parents purchase a grey-import of a British Sky network-decoder for the ripe price of about $1,000 (probably more in today’s money), so I could watch wrestling (for one year, that was when the subscription ran out and my parents put their foot down on the matter). Before that, I would sit in front of the television, listening intently to the scrambled network as a kid (I was a strange kid, and had very understanding parents I guess – but hey, how many other kids can say that they were being taught the finer details of English grammar and lots of wonderful vocabulary by Vince McMahon, Gorilla Monsoon, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler or Jim Cornette?). On PPV nights, I’d get up at 2 AM and listen to the screen. Oh, those were the days!

Fast-forward to 2014: At the time, WWE PPVs only were available at an additional cost for subscribers of the German version of Sky, plus you also had to be getting said network via satellite to even be able to order them. Now don't get me wrong, I got Sky the day it became available to me and had shilled out around $40 extra a month for more than two years by February 2014, basically just to watch RAW (I wasn't interested in all the other sports on Sky Sports and hardly ever watched any of the movies on the additional Sky Movies package I also got, and seriously, who ever really watches SmackDown after having read nothing happens on the show on Tuesday?).

But since I had cable (and I guess Sky's PPV/VOD offerings conflicted with the lame movies-only VOD channel by my cable provider) I couldn't get the PPVs. As in, I couldn't throw any money at WWE even if I wanted to (and believe me, I tried). At least I could get RAW live with English commentary – for everybody bitching and moaning about the current RAW team, you'd adore them if you had to listen to the German team which, with the notable exception of Sebastian Hackl, is just abysmal).

But, you say, there always also was iPPV on WWE.com. Another catch: I wasn't able to buy that either, as WWE locked out everybody in a geographical region where their PPVs in theory were available from a partner (and they did that by demanding that you enter the billing address for your credit card, so using U.S. proxies or other means of circumventing geo-blocking didn't work). I think I tried to purchase WrestleMania that way three years in a row (2011-2013), including exchanging many a long e-mail with their support staff. Twice I succeeded, jumping through a few burning hoops:

The first year, a kind soul on The Board~! helped me out – I PayPal'd him the money and he ordered it for me, using his U.S. credit card. Yes, WWE made me wire money to a stranger in order to watch their show. Back then, it also still was on DRM-protected Windows Media, and I was sweating through most of the day because I wasn't sure if it would even work or if I would embarrass myself in front of around ten people I had planned a PPV party with (and remember, the show was on from 1.00 to 5.00 AM on a Monday here, so just saying a screw it, let’s go out and so something else wasn’t really an option).

The next year I gave up after numerous tries of purchasing the show and even more e-mails, and we eventually watched ‘Mania at a friend's house, who got Sky on satellite and thus was able to order – but he wasn't one to do that for every show, staying up through half of the night.

In 2013, I again found a way to order from WWE.com, this time via a friend from France, since it could be ordered there, as I think PPVs aired on free TV in that market at the time and thus there was no revenue to lose if somebody actually wanted to pay for it on the internet. That year was famous for the stream crashing about one minute into the show (at least the pre-show aired fine, yay!) and then coming back about two hours in, but starting from the very beginning with no way to switch to the live broadcast. Oh, and I tried to get a refund for that disaster, to which their support laconically replied something to the effect of “well, our records show you eventually watched the show, so things turned out fine”. I replied by basically telling them that I wasn't spending another cent on their company, if that was the way they decided to deal with long-time fans (and customers!) of more than 20 years and explaining that by the time the show ended on their delay (around 8 AM on a Monday), everybody at my party either had to be at work or was asleep after a long night. I never got a reply, but randomly received a refund a few months(!) later – ironically after having told the story to Chris Jericho during a Fozzy meet and greet in late April of 2013, but I seriously doubt he went to bat for me with the company. That should have been an early warning sign though.

Phase One – that was easy! Or was it?

On February 24, 2014 I was excited as a little kid! I even worked from home that day and tried to purchase the Network the minute it became available. Also, would I even be able to order? After all, they had done a good job about locking everybody out who wasn't supposed to buy iPPVs for years and the network was supposed to be U.S. only at the time.

At 3 PM CET (which translated to 9 AM ET), I logged onto WWE.com which was painstakingly slow. I used a proxy that provided me with a U.S.-based IP-address, as I wasn't sure what to expect (the page plugging the Network had told me for days that I wasn't even able to watch the promo video from my location). So I was pleasantly surprised when - after about an hour of fiddling around, getting thrown off the site, being redirected to pages that suddenly were gone and produced error messages, etc. - I was able to register relatively painless, using a mix of my real data and a U.S. based address and pay for my first six months on the network via PayPal. Also, to my surprise, there was no geo-blocking in effect, which made things a lot easier.

So I watched Vince tell me a new era had begun, clicked through a mix of old and new shows, and eventually played the Shawn Michaels/Bret Hart sit-down interview with Jim Ross in the background while working. I have a PC hooked up to my television, which is still an old, bulky CRT (which just won't die, so I'm sticking with it until various issues with current 4K-smart-TVs are resolved), so that’s my main streaming device – no fancy Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast or gaming console here. Picture quality was great and the full-screen mode worked as it was supposed to, just as with every other video service on the net. And why wouldn't it? Wait, take note of that part and remember it for later.

Hey… but that just worked yesterday!

The first downer came that evening (still the afternoon in the U.S.) – I wanted to demonstrate my shiny new acquisition to my brother (who is as big a fan as I am), but suddenly kept getting “media playback errors” when trying. So I fiddled (remember that word, kids) some more and sure enough, something was wrong and geo-blocking was in full effect now. Well, no big deal, after playing around with a few settings, tools and add-ons I had devised a way around the issue and was able to watch again.

Then, a short time later, full-screen mode suddenly wasn't properly working any longer (told you to keep that bit in mind!). Well, it was, when I watched on one of my laptops, which all featured screens with 16:9 resolutions (i.e. FullHD 1920×1080 and WXGA 1366×768). But on my old, analogue, cathode-ray-tube TV set (basically a 4:3 a soul living in a 16:9 body – meaning while it will display 16:9 properly, the native resolution really is only 576×720 in square pixels), things suddenly looked messy. There would be a big black bar at the bottom of the picture and it wouldn't use the full screen estate that it should be using. With me being an IT guy and a problem-solver at heart, especially when it concerns technical issues, I wasn't going to let that stand and was hell-bent on a solution. Of course, I tried contacting @WWENetwork on Twitter first, but I’m not even sure they understood what I was talking about. But at least they promised to have their technical staff into either. The problem never was fixed.

I'll spare you the technical details, but through a few hours of trial and error (i.e. fiddling), I found out that the picture would only scale properly on a native 16:9 resolution and everything else (from older TVs, 4:3 and 5:4 monitors to MacBook Pros using a more traditional 16:10 resolution) would result in uneven black bars (at least they should be evenly spaced at the top and bottom with the video at full-width centered on the vertical axis). I eventually found a way of tricking the WWE Network video player into accepting a fake 16:9 resolution, which I spoofed using Google Chrome's integrated developer tools. I also documented my fix on the web in mid-April for others with the same problem and things, for a time, were back to normal again.

Until they weren’t. A few weeks later, the same issue arose and I was not able to find a fix for it; I guess MLB Advanced Media (MLB-AM) did some fiddling of their own somewhere. Which means, on my television, I can't get the network to properly display a full-screen video; I have to put the browser in full-screen mode, zoom in on my television and scroll up until the top of the video is at the top of the screen and thus is a t least using about 80% of the available vertical space.

OK, but I’m using an old television, one may argue – technology advances, there ought to be some problems on older machines/setups at some point. True that - but in this matter YouTube, Netflix, UFC Fight Pass, New Japan World, all the iPPVs/VODs on ROH, WWNLive, RFVideo, Smart Mark Video, Highspots, uStream and Vimeo I ever ordered using the exact same setup worked like expected in full-screen mode. Only the WWE/MLB video player doesn't. Expect when it did. At the very beginning. Until it stopped. Go figure!

Shut up and take my money!

Putting aside the full-screen issue, the Network as a platform worked great for me. Usually no lags or issues with the stream, save a few one-to-two second hiccups on some PPVs and that one weird issue seemingly everyone had during the first NXT special a few days after the original launch. I was happy and really thought the $ 9.99 were a bargain for all the content on there – even though I shared some of the criticism offered by the wrestling media, message boards and social media. Sure, I too had hoped for more territorial content, more old WWF and WCW television shows and more original shows based around historical content. But still, I hadn't even watched a fraction of what was on there yet during the first (at that time, mandatory) six months of my subscription, so renewing was not a question for me. I'd probably be a subscriber for life, just as I'll be with this site.

Since I had chosen monthly payments, my PayPal account was charged $ 9.99 on a monthly basis and I had set my subscription to recurring anyway. As many of you may remember, the first week of the Network was free, so the actual six-month commitment kicked in on March 3rd with the first renewal period therefore coming around on September 3rd.

Now imagine my surprise, when on 9/3, I received an e-mail with the subject “Urgent message regarding your WWE Network Subscription” from the WWE Network, telling me that “We were unable to process your WWE Network subscription payment using the credit card/debit card or PayPal account information currently on file in the payment profile section of your account. As a result, your account is currently suspended.”

What the…? Of course, I first suspected something was up with either my PayPal account or the credit card used for it, since everything had worked fine for the past six months. A quick check showed that everything was indeed in order on that end. So what had happened? I logged onto WWE.com and tried to manually renew. And Boom! (quoth the Konnan…) the same error came up. Sneaky bastards probably had found a way to identify which country my PayPal account belonged to. Never being one to give up (I guess that makes me the John Cena of this story then… where’s my mansion and my Bella twin?), nor trying to trick a system into letting me pay my hard-earned money, I went back to my latest and greatest hobby on the WWE Network: fiddling around (notice a theme yet?).

After a while, I found out that, if PayPal was also led to believe that I was actually accessing its website from the U.S., things went fine and I was actually able to pay. Phew! Dodged a bullet there.

Can you try and guess what happened exactly 30 days later, on October 3rd? Yep… “Urgent message regarding your WWE Network Subscription” – “We were unable to process your WWE Network subscription payment…”. By that point, I was ready to go all Vinny V on that damned thing! “What the hell is wrong with you people?”, I silently screamed at myself. I was in Germany for the wXw/CZW/BJW World Triangle League tournament when that mail arrived, and after that, I had quite a lot to do at work, so I let the Network be the Network for a few days and decided to look into it later. On October 9, I finally got around to it. More fiddling, more trying, more playing around. At some point, my money was accepted. Great!

Interlude – how I ended up giving the WWE a free month of the WWE Network

Great? Well, almost. Because when PayPal alerted me about my successful payment, suddenly I was being charged $ 11.99 – two bucks more than the asking price. By that point, WWE had also introduced a one-month commitment option at $ 12.99. But $ 11.99? Where was that coming from?

To be honest, I wasn’t willing to find out. Since my credit card was being charged in euros anyways and the dollar/euro exchange rate wasn’t bad at the time, I told myself that the difference probably was the price one had to pay in order to access a streaming service that one wasn’t supposed to access yet, and that was that. Also, I wasn’t too keen on alerting their customer support to the issue, as they might look into my account, deduce that I was from a region where the Network wasn’t yet available and thus suspend it. Actually, thinking back on it, they could probably have charged everyone from outside the U.S. a dollar or two more, if they somehow found out who those accounts belonged to, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t have bothered complaining for the same reason I didn’t.

But it still nagged me, every month, when that PayPal confirmation came in. $ 11.99 – what am I, a Canadian, eh? Also, the dollar/euro exchange rate started climbing steadily at that point, and thus I was unnecessarily giving away more and more money in my currency each month. Now I am not a niggard kind of person, but I also am no fan of throwing money away for no special reason. I tried changing my subscription from one-month to recurring multiple times, in order to trigger the system into charging me the correct amount, but to no avail.

Finally, by mid-February I was fed up and cancelled my recurring subscription. I was going to let it run out and renew, in the hope that this step would set me back to the $ 9.99 rate, which was being prayed like a mantra almost every Monday night on RAW by then. They cancelled my subscription on March 9, bringing my sum of overpaying from October 9 through March 9 to exactly $ 10.00, just one cent over the regular monthly subscription price. So I guess, I gave the WWE a free month of their Network – who ever said Vince lost a step as being a genius over the last few years?

Hey! Let me back in!

Of course, my brilliant idea didn’t work out quite as well as intended; when I tried to sign back up the next day, the website informed me that I would be able to do so without a problem, welcome back and thank you very much, for the small but fair asking price of $ 11.99 a month. You grimy, dirty, little f… My inner Vinny V was begging to come out and play, but cooler heads (mine) prevailed and I decided to just sign up with a new account.

So I calmly created a new account and signed back up on March 10, with plenty of time for WrestleMania weekend and back at the original rate of $ 9.99. Mania went off without a hitch; I watched WrestleMania Today, the Hall of Fame, Ronda Rousey judo-tossing Triple H and Roman Reigns going on a holiday in suplex city, bitch! Life was bliss.

But wait… there is more. Can you guess it? The date? April 11 – which is suspiciously close to 30 days after I signed back up on March 10. And sure as the sun rising in the east, there was a nice little e-mail in my account, snarling at me: “Account Alert! Your Payment Has Failed”. Holy white hot rage, Batman! Do these people really not want my money? Do they really want Todd Martin to win his bet? Do they want to drive me off, not with a stale product and toilet humor but through sheer business incompetence? What in the blue hell is it now!?

Eat. Sleep. Fiddle around with your subscription on the WWE Network. Repeat.

Fiddle around with your subscription on the WWE Network. Repeat.

Fiddle around with your subscription on the WWE Network. Repeat.

Fiddle around with your subscription on the WWE Network. Repeat.

Hey, I got a great idea for a new show on the Network. Have Brock Lesnar sign up for the Network. Then cancel his subscription and tell him there’s a problem with his PayPal. Numerous times. Also, overcharge him once you let him back on. Then have him create a new account to work around the issue. Then cancel him again. Also, make sure he can’t watch anything in full-screen on his favorite device. Film the whole thing. You’re done. Enjoy. Roll around naked in all the money flowing in from new subscribers. Treat the same way. Tell them to feel like big stars now, since they’re getting the same treatment.

Now I’m not sure that scenario is as bad as taking food off Brock’s children’s table and getting on top of his wife, but I am pretty sure he will give you more than a dirty look. Also, play that footage to the numbskulls working for MLB-AM and tell them Brock comes over next week for a talk. I’m sure every issue will be fixed in a hurry.

Shut up and take my money, redux - ah, what the hell, just take it all!

OK, back from that little digression. On the night of April 12 (late evening of April 11 in the U.S.) I decided to tackle the problem again. I guessed the Network and I had become something akin to “frenemies” at that point. Only, neither Paige or AJ were anywhere near to brighten my day.

Oh, great, April is free on the Network again! Which is fine and dandy, but the “try it now for free” page seems to have replaced the “renew subscription” page right now. When I clicked order, it redirected me back to the “my account” page, which redirected me to the “try it free now” page when I clicked “sign up”. Oh, and the address data got deleted from my account, which I am not sure is a result of incompetence or WWE’s passive-aggressive way of telling me “we know you don’t REALLY live there”.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I saw evil Mr. McMahon cackling, having somehow hacked into my laptop’s webcam, watching the whole ordeal, screaming “Come on, you fucking millennial! Grab that brass ring, godammit! You’re a nerd! Look at him, spending his time in front of a computer instead of the gym! YOU’RE FIRED! Hahaha!”

At some point, using dark magic (and an add-on that lets me delete the specific cookies of the various WWE subsites), I somehow managed to break out of that loop of brimstone and hellfire and got to try and order a subscription again. Or rather, I had to enter my information all over again. Wait, was I just creating my third account in a year? I really had no idea what was happening any longer at that point. But renewing/ordering the old way via PayPal using a U.S. proxy didn’t work anyway. Of course, my credit card also got rejected when I tried that, as it’s from a region not officially allowed in on the fun yet. It was the full screen issue all over again. My fix was broken and it couldn’t get up.

At that point, I was actually considering more weird options. Could I find another stranger on the Board~! who I’d PayPal $ 9.99 to each month and he’d subscribe me? Wasn’t there some weird thing I read about getting a U.S.-based iTunes account and purchasing the Network through iTunes gift cards? Could I ask a friend from the UK to purchase a gift subscription for me? Should I just go back to downloading/streaming? Should I just give up and wait for a German version to come out, then watch the shows with Carsten Schaefer doing commentary and finally resort to killing myself?

Wait… brain, what did you just say? No, not the killing myself part, stupid. The one before. No, not the one that’s morally questionable either. Gift subscription? A-ha! Yeah, that’s the one. And hey, you can even give one to yourself (somewhere, Craig Proper is solemnly smiling right now…). Now imagine that. At that point I was desperate, who knew, maybe that was a loophole.

Also, and this is the true genius of whoever devised this whole twisted and perverted website with all its pitfalls and deadly traps, the idea of getting to spend almost $ 120 in one sitting and not having to go through this whole ordeal again in a month filled my being with warmth and joy and beautiful feelings. So I tried! It worked! Tears of joy were running down my face. Birds chirped. Unicorns gracefully galloped through my living room. A rainbow appeared over my desk, for a brief moment it was as if the trumpets of heaven had sounded, heralding my success, my victory over evil.

Then, in a perfect climax of it all, my e-mail chimed and announced “WWE Network Gift Subscription Purchase Confirmation”, and even more, it told me “Thank you for purchasing a subscription to WWE Network as a gift. An activation email will be sent to the gift recipient email address you provided during billing.” Oh hey, that’s me, too!

So I waited for that activation e-mail. Aaaand waited. Aaaand waited. Aaaand waited a little longer. OK, my spam-filtering-methods are pretty decent, but this was getting ridiculous. Nope, no e-mail coming. I fell into a long, dark sleep, as uncertainty grasped me.

Please Mister Postman, look and see, is there an e-mail in your bag for me?

Next day – still no trace of the promised mail. Of course, no mention of me having purchased (or being gifted) a subscription on the “my account” page either. But PayPal, ever the dutiful tool for those wanting to spend money, informed me that I’ve been charged $ 119.88 by WWE NETWORK; now that’s a relief. Hey, maybe now I’ve given the Network 13 free months instead of one – not bad, considering it has only been up for about 14 months total at that point.

OK, I really didn’t want to throw that kind of money away. So I decided to bite the bullet and contacted support. After all, even if they’d suspend my account, they’d probably at least have to transfer the money back to me. Then I’d get another chance to try again, with a new account.

I guess I’m the sad, self-loathing wrestling-fan equivalent of those women always finding an excuse for being mistreated by their men.

The confirmation e-mail for the purchase of my gift subscription states “If you have any questions about your gift subscription or your gift recipient does not receive their activation email, please contact WWE Network support.” OK, I did just that, through the form on their website the next day (still April 12) and stated my problem: I’d purchased a gift subscription and received confirmation of the fact, my PayPal got charged but no further information had been sent my way. The site told me, that I should expect a reply within 48 hours.

Being a nice, friendly millennial (plus, having worked in tech support for years, I knew it was no use to stress the issue and bombard them with more e-mails; those poor souls usually are on the low-end of the totem pole and just have to deal with the consequences), I waited. 48 hours passed. Still no reply.

on April 15, I decided to write them an e-mail after more than two days passed, choosing to target the mlb.com address given for the WWE NETWORK PayPal, plus the reply-to address of the confirmation mail for my gift certificate purchase, which looked to be a randomly generated address on mail.mlblists.com. Both didn’t sound very promising to getting me anywhere, but what other options were there really?

Chatty Chatty! Bang Bang! Somebody shoot me please!

While hunting for a third and better address on the support page, I noticed a “Live 24/7 Chat” link on the top right corner. Ah, why not? The thought of actually talking to another human being about the matter sounded like a better option than shooting mails at random departments, so I clicked the link.

Now I guess one could discuss semantics of about pretty much anything if one was so inclined, but beside physicists debating the very concept of time, or theories in wacky sci-fi movies, 24/7 to me sounds pretty specific. My interpretation is 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and I guess most people would agree.

Now imagine my surprise when I clicked the link (it was probably around 10.15 AM on the East Coast) and the website stated that, right now there were no live-chat support hours, but listed specific times during which support staff could actually be reached. I guess the wrestling world really is different from the real world, even when it comes to business. Only on the WWE Network folks, get it now, for only $ 9.99!

The website gave support hours on Wednesdays starting at 12 PM ET. So I patiently waited and dove in. Before the actual chat, I had to fill out a form and state my issue in 240 characters or less. Hey, that’s 1.5 Twitter messages, I can do that!

A very nice fellow (non-native speaker of English I’d say, but then, neither am I) was on the other end of the chat and quickly and very politely tried to solve the issue. First, for “security reasons” I had to state a few facts that would be available in my WWE.com account, such as name, e-mail address, address and phone number. My biggest apprehension, namely that this might expose my not-exactly-living-in-the-U.S.-status was unwarranted. I wonder if one could get away with stating that they resided at 1241 East Main Street in Stamford, CT.

He looked into my account and asked if I had clicked the activation link in the e-mail. I told him I hadn’t, since I never received said mail and that was actually why I was talking to him right now. He again told me, that I really had to click that link. I asked if he would be nice enough to resend the e-mail to which he agreed.

I told him it would take a while for me to receive it, as one of the measures against spam my hosting provider takes is greylisting. Wikipedia defines this as “A mail transfer agent (MTA) using greylisting will ‘temporarily reject’ any email from a sender it does not recognize. If the mail is legitimate the originating server will try again after a delay, and if sufficient time has elapsed the email will be accepted.” In theory, I would have been able to disable that, but the address I use to subscribe to the Network doesn’t allow for that.

So I thanked him, asked him for an incident number of my case, should I have to contact support again and finally asked if he could also paste the activation code for me into the chat, so I could click it and get things done. He replied that unfortunately for security reasons, they don’t have access to that code and can only resend e-mails, which he assured me he had done. The whole ordeal took about 25 minutes, which is an awful long time to look up a little user information and resend an automated e-mail – so either the poor guy had to chat with a dozen customers at the same time, or MLB-AMs systems are of such poor design that each step takes forever.

I had to leave quickly after our chat and only got to check my mails about 30 minutes later. Lo and behold, there actually was an e-mail from WWE Network in my inbox, but it was my “WWE Network Gift Subscription Purchase Confirmation”. Yes. The same e-mail I had already received more than 3.5 days earlier. But still no e-mail containing anything resembling an activation code.

So when I got home, I decided to try again (for once, central Europe being in a later time zone than the U.S. actually paid off). I talked to another, very friendly chap (hey, at least they are all very friendly and polite – I guess they have to deal with lots of angry customers, and the best strategy usually is to beat those over the head with kindness). Since I suspected something fishy about their practices of e-mailing, I set up a completely fresh account and disabled any and all anti-spam measures for it.

He said he’d be re-mailing the activation e-mail once more and I asked him to send it to the new address I had just set up instead, to which he agreed. He also told me he’d change the address in my account to the one I had just provided him with and send the mail there. Now I did not plan on keeping that new account, but at that point was up for anything that would restore access to the Network for me.

He sent the mail out, I checked the appropriate inbox. Nothing.

I then checked my WWE account – for all intents and purposes, the new address should have been in there now, too. It wasn’t.

I informed him of both facts. He asked me to log out from WWE.com and log in again, this time using the new address. I tried that (using the new address and the old password), aaaand… say it with me: it didn’t work.

What did work, was that the pristine e-mail containing my gift certificate activation link finally arrived in the new address’s inbox. I was almost in tears by that point and clicked the link with shaking fingers.

Now, if this were one of those clickbaiting articles on social media, the next line would read “you’ll never guess what happened next”.

Only, you’ve already read the whole story that far and can probably guess exactly what happened next

Hint: Evil Mr. McMahon was laughing somewhere again. The gift redemption page popped up, but told me in no uncertain terms (and red letters, to boot):

“This code has already been used to redeem”

WHAT THE…!? HOW CAN THAT…!? WHO…!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?

I told the same (the first line, not the second) to the poor operator, who I could practically sense scurrying around in his system, assuring me he’d really try to fix that for me ASAP.

Clickbait alert: you’ll never guess what happened next.

Back on course, Daddy-O

When I changed tabs and went back to the WWE.com “my account” page, it suddenly, magically stated

GIFT SUBSCRIPTION

You are currently enjoying gift subscription of WWE network.

I was flabbergasted and still have no technical explanation on what occurred here. Of course, my profile also still featured the original e-mail address which I sure as hell won’t be tampering with.

Of course, now I had to take a closer look at the e-mail that ha cause me so much grief, especially since it was both addressed to my new address (the one without the spam filter) and CC’ed to my original one (with spam filters), where it has yet to arrive more than six hours later.

From what I gathered from the headers (kind of the postage stamps of e-mail), it had been sent out via SendLab.com, a company specializing in sending large amounts of e-mail to customers and offering that service to many companies, among them it seem MLB Advanced Media (and probably hundreds of others who may or may not be sending out lots of unsolicited marketing e-mails). I guess they’ve thus landed on some blacklist, which my mail provider probably uses to weed out spammers and thus the e-mail containing the link never arrived the first two times and only got through when I had it sent to an address devoid of all spam filters. Also, from the headers I checked from the various other e-mails I got from the Network over the past year, it appears none were sent using the SendLab service (some came from what appear to be mail servers in the WWE or MLB networks instead).

Where do we go from here?

Unless somebody at MLB AM or WWE finds another really cruel way on how to torture me, I guess my status as a WWE Network subscriber is pretty safe for the next twelve months – and who knows, maybe by that point I may actually be allowed to throw my money in by the front door instead of having to sneak it in by the back.

The real question is, can WWE really afford making many of those easily-avoidable mistakes with the platform they are hoping to get at least 30% of their revenue out of (with the other two big pillars being television rights fees and live events) and with which they are trying to replace PPV, a relatively stable platform and revenue stream for the past 20 years?

My beef is not with the platform itself, but mainly with its interface and functionality. Video quality and stability has been good for me, the library is what it is, but the basics are there and clearly there is a bigger demand for original programming and less for historic material; yet that’s a chicken-egg problem for the most part, as I’m sure people would watch weekly IWCCW, Mid-South or NWA/early WCW television shows if they were being put up in order and maybe presented in a proper framework, such as a performer of the time introducing the show and on occasion discussing angles and matches with the participants or contemporaries of the wrestlers in question (much like Gene Okerlund does on Vintage Collection; also, why isn’t that show up there?)

Issues and solutions

Their biggest sin is certainly randomly overcharging people by 20% with no notice or explanation. This makes them come off as really second rate. I guess it was due to some system glitch in my case, but I’ve researched a few other instances, including people with U.S. PayPal also suddenly being charged $ 11.99 at around the same time period it happened to me. They’re lucky they are mostly flying under the radar, because imagine field day the media would be having if something to that effect happened with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or Spotify.

To be fair, I am sure some of the issues I had with payment clearly stem from the fact that I am trying to pass myself off as being based in the U.S. and them trying (even if halfheartedly) to rid themselves of people from regions of the world that “shouldn’t be accessing the Network yet”. But why let it go for months, then come down on it one month and let it go again for another. It’s that randomness that really drives me crazy. Also, I was on FightPass via PayPal when it was U.S.-only and never had an issue, except when they double-charged me one month when I cancelled and re-subscribed, but that problem was solved within hours by sending their support an e-mail. And I’ve been hearing from people since day one that one day suddenly gut cancelled or were not able to renew using PayPal. I do a lot of recurring payments through PayPal and never had any issues with randomly getting cancelled anywhere.

Minor issues such as full-screen video not properly working on every major computer operating system, independent of screen size and aspect ratio, is ridiculous. This is a very basic issue and I never saw any other web-video-player anywhere behave like the one they use. Proper in-video navigation also should be a no-brainer, and I don’t think they have fully fixed the issue either.

Their partner company employing an e-mail service, that is probably on some major blacklists and thus blocked by many mail-servers around the world, to send out gift certificates of all things will probably result in lots of frustration with both gifters and giftees. I run numerous mail-accounts on a multitude of servers and rarely had something like that happen to me; it once happened with a major IT company that used a similar service for their user verification system a while back. That service was blacklisted by some universities, as it also was used to send out loads of unsolicited mails and one mail-server administrator of a large university openly questioned why they were employing that service in the first place. MLB and WWE both probably run at least mid-level mail services themselves, which they use for most of their other e-mail communication, so I don’t see why they couldn’t use it for crucial task such as sending out gift certificates.

One could criticize the user interface and navigation, at least of the website version as well. It reminds me of the original WWF.com website back in the late 90s, which also featured questionable navigation and had also had a menu item called “The Vault” (I guess this must be one of Vince’s favorite words?). It certainly takes some time to find your way around and it isn’t very intuitive to just browse away as say, YouTube or Netflix are. I’ve heard people state that they didn’t really know where to find specific items on the website, especially stuff like one-time post-RAW angles or matches. I find myself employing the WWE-Network-section on Reddit a lot more than the Networks own navigation or search function if I need to quickly find a show.

Overall, I don’t think going with MLB Advanced Media was the best choice they could have made. People were taking about issues with the MLB Network from very early on and the UI just isn’t on the level it should be for a premium digital media platform in my opinion. I am not sure what other companies they were in talks in, but NeuLion, who also run FightPass and the iPPV business for UFC are doing a great job with those platforms, which appear superior on a technical level.

International expansion in 2015

As for their international expansion strategy, if I were WWE, I’d actually embrace the hardcores flocking to my new premium revenue model early, even if “on paper” I had to condemn their behavior to make my local partners happy; the hardcores from around the world are on the Network anyway, and have been from very early on as evidenced by the relatively small growth official international expansion resulted in when they opened themselves up to most of the world last year.

My theory is, that many of the casual fans will stay with WWE’s local partners (free TV stations Tele 5, ProSieben MAXX and ProSieben FUN, EuroSport, plus over-the-top platform Maxdome.de in Germany) anyway, as those fans are the ones who actually prefer German commentary, and probably aren’t willing to spend an extra 10 bucks a month on more wrestling on top. These are also the people who are probably happy enough with the up to six-and-a-half hours (two-hour version of RAW, SmackDown, NXT, This Week in WWE and Vintage Classics) they get on free TV; also Impact started airing on DMAX a few weeks ago as well, for those who still need an additional fix.

This has been evidenced when UFC introduced FightPass in Germany a while back, as before that, due to the decision to ban them from Germany, they gave away their PPVs for free on UFC.tv in Germany 8and before that, they aired for free on DSF/Sport 1). This policy was changed when they introduced FightPass to the rest of the world and people are still clamoring about it every month, moaning how about they used to give the shows away for free and how UFC would “never establish themselves in Germany with that attitude”. Then again, WWE PPVs have been on Sky before they were on Maxdome and usually cost about $ 15-20, which is more than the Network would probably cost, and people are used to paying at least a little bit for the PPVs, so the rest of the Network would probably be just a bonus.

I am intrigued by what they plan on doing when introducing the Network to new markets in Germany (and I guess Austria and Switzerland), Chine, India, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand later this year. I don’t think WWE will be able to completely dub even a fraction of their library into these languages – so will they just localize navigation and info blurbs? One would think that they could maybe dub PPVs, NXT and subtitle some of the specials they produce in the future, plus use any localized content that was dubbed in the past to air on television or on DVD, with the question being if they even saved a lot of the audio tracks, especially from older television airings.

So I am not sure why they even bother keeping people from these regions out, other than protecting PPV (which, apart from maybe Germany, is probably non-existent in the other markets they want to bring the Network too in 2015) and maybe television rights for shows such as Main Event or NXT (as is the case with the UK, which is why they don’t air Main Event on the Network right now). So why not invite people to join the English language Network now and give them a localized version at a later point, putting priority on those regions where demand is the biggest?

As for PPV in Germany, some people are also complaining about Maxdome, which is the internet-platform that hosts WWE PPVs right now. There are still problems being reported about the live stream ever so often, and while there are apps for most gaming consoles and smart TVs, I think it’s hard to order the PPVs from on there and on certain platforms I also don’t think you can even watch the live stream. As with the Network, not everybody can or will hook up a desktop or laptop to their television. I also think it only has German commentary as well and the price is about twice of that of the Network for one PPV. Also, Maxdome both offers a monthly rate for on-demand programming, but charges extra for PPVs, even though you don’t need a monthly subscription to get them. This has lots of people confused month after month, as is evident by lots of questions on WWE’s German language social media account in the days leading up to PPV shows.

Hardcore fans usually are also more computer-literate than the casuals, if only to consult wrestling sites and message boards, were there is also more of a self-help culture – I guess that’s also why most hardcores worldwide found a way to subscribe to the Network quickly, so that means they are also more willing to spend money on digital media, as evidenced by the people also buying iPPVs from other companies, so they probably make good customers for WWE too, regardless of which market they are in.

I don’t want to guesstimate a percentage, but I think the majority of the non-ultra-hardcore wrestling-fans (which is, what most of WWE’s fan base is these days I would think) would probably have been driven off the WWE Network after the first or second issue I experienced and never have looked back. In fact, most paying users of any streaming platform would have been driven away after one or two of these issues, I think. And of those who still would have liked to stay, how many actually have the technical knowledge to avoid/fix some of the technical issues the platform had or still has? And finding ways of circumventing bugs on a streaming platform is nothing any paying customer should be forced to fiddle around with anyway.

I understand that WWE has duties to their television partners around the world and that rights fees are still the major revenue stream for them, so they have to make sure everybody is kept happy, and in the business world, that sometimes means making your business partners happier than your customers. I’m not saying don’t try to keep people from those regions off the Network for now. But at least don’t actively make their life hard, be it on purpose or by sheer incompetence by yourself or your partner – and don’t make the fiddle around!