Well, isn’t this a turnup for the books. Et Cetera… back?
Well, no. Sorry. It’s just that, from time to time, my laptop screws up and I can’t get online enough to pilfer the DVD news. But more than that, from time to time, I need to vent about the WWF (yes yes, as I’ve stated before, I’m still calling them that). And you know what? I think the WWF is screwed, and it has nothing to do with their domestic performance. Well, it kinda does, but it’s more to do with what they do when their domestic business is in the shitter. Because traditionally, when domestic business has been in said shitter, the WWF relies on foreign markets to keep it afloat until it gets its shit together. Today, you’ll notice that the McMahons are putting a great deal of focus on developing their international business, because they know that “domestic ratings are soft” read: we know we’re shovelling shit down our home fans throats and they’ve had enough, but foreign fans are so desperate for our product that they’ll swallow anything, so we’ll put our crap in aid parcels and send it overseas. There’s just one problem with that:
We’re getting our own wrestling channel.
After years of foreign territories keeping Vince afloat during the lean times (like when WCW was kicking his ass), he finally hit upon the Attitude era and the company’s most successful run ever, and suddenly the little people weren’t so important to him. He went into hardcore “I’m Vince McMahon dammit” negotiations mode and basically told the foreign markets that he’s the only game in town so you play by his rules or you don’t get a wrestling show. Thanks to that, important territories such as Germany are without any WWF programming, and Australia currently only receive RAW, and if that weren’t punishment enough, I think it’s still on a time lag of a couple of weeks. But, much like when Vince told the USA network to go fuck themselves and see how they get on without him, these markets have done just fine without Vince’s divine influence. All Vince has actually done is burnt bridges with the people who’ve been most loyal to him in the lean times, and when he needs them the most like in a couple of years when Viacom throw him out on his ass he’ll have nowhere to go.
In the UK, it’s not the lack of WWF that’s the problem, it’s that we’re getting closer and closer to our North American brothers. Firstly, we’re getting oversaturated with the product we now get all the syndicated shows, repeated twice a day, in addition to repeats of the flagship shows, meaning that every single day of the week, there is WWF programming at least twice a day. On top of that, PPVs which have traditionally been free-to-air in the UK as part of our satellite/cable subscriptions are now being re-introduced as true Pay-Per-Views, and this has NOT sat well with viewers here. Whereas we’ve previously had a WrestleMania and more important live events brought over here, the WWF is now content to run glorified house shows with high prices, no pyro, and in tiny 10,000 seat arenas. We put up with this for so long because there was no WCW presence here until the very end of that company’s life (and when they did air it here, despite the fact that RAW was shown on Friday nights a four day delay they put Nitro on at EXACTLY the same time and it got obliterated). We got ECW for about two years, one year of which was vintage Hardcore TV from 1995. So basically, unlike our brothers across the water, there was no alternative.
But y’see, now we’re getting our own wrestling channel.
Plans are underway and deals are in place for the world’s first wrestling channel starting in September. Already signed up are Pro Wrestling NOAH, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and Ohio Valley Wrestling. The Jarretts are, naturally, said to be trying to work out a deal for NWA:TNA to air, although obviously the PPV-ness of the product would be a huge turn-off to UK fans who are already pissed at having to pay £14.99 ($23 US) each for six of the WWF’s 12 yearly events. More promotions are trying to work out deals, and the channel will also air shows from various UK-based companies. In short, for the first time in history, American independent companies will have a national, weekly TV presence, as will Japanese promotions outside of their domestic market. The wrestling-friendly UK audience that is growing increasingly disenchanted and uninterested in the WWF product will have a true alternative, a wrestling-oriented alternative, which is what we smarks have been asking for since the demise of ECWCW.
I wholly believe this channel will be a success, unless there is some truly dumbass pricing policy or some other business model that turns viewers off. The UK has a quirky fascination with Japan and Japanese product, evidenced by the success of imported shows such as Takeshi’s Castle and the traditionally thriving grey import scene that has seen Nintendo launch lawsuits against just about every import company here. The lure of Japanese wrestling shows will be strong enough, but bolstered by quality wrestling such as Ring of Honor and old school programming like OVW, fans looking for something other than WWF nonsense will be sure to find something. Which means that Vince McMahon, who has long relied on us to keep buying his shit when American fans have long gotten wise to his antics and who is desperately trying to build international business to stop his shareholders going apeshit… things ain’t good.
The McMahons own the WWF and WCW tape libraries, and have all but purchased the ECW and AWA footage. They’re trying to get buy every library they can get their hands on, but they’re only focusing on defunct promotions. So, even if they do decide to put out their own wrestling channel (which they have repeatedly denied they are going to), it is seemingly going to be a classic wrestling channel. And you know what? If you think that the demographic of wrestling fan who is more interested in well-worked matches over Smack!Down-esque ring implosion stunt-show spots is small, it’s NOTHING compared to the minority of fans who are going to be engrossed in plodding Global matches or awful AWA shows. Even the most hardcore fans will find it hard to sit through the wrestling product of old UK fans have been “lucky” enough to see WWF Classics and WCW/NWA Classics the past couple of years, and it ain’t pretty. On the other hand, the new channel will focus on cutting-edge, new wrestling content from the most exciting non-WWF promotions on the planet. And you know what? If it weren’t for the extortionate tape-trader prices and the weeks it takes to get stuff shipped over from the States, I probably would’ve switched to watching another wrestling product long ago. And now that we’re getting a dedicated wrestling channel, I can do just that.
So Vince, I just hope to God you get your shit together. Start by firing Stephanie and Brian Gerwitz, rehiring Paul Heyman, and organising a plane crash involving HGH, Undertaker and Big Show. Cut out this brand extension bullshit. Take Velocity and give it to the cruisers. Abolish WWF main event style. Quit trying to make cartoons and Stone Cold movies, and stop pretending you’re some sort of entrepreneur. YOU’RE A WRESTLING PROMOTER CARNY HUCKSTER FUCK, AND THAT’S ALL YOU’LL EVER BE. But you’re GOOD at it, when you get your shit together. Start seriously pushing guys like Benoit, RVD and Booker, because those are exactly the sort of guys that workrate-based promotions like RoH would do. And you know what? Those promotions are about to become a lot more competition than you might like to think.