Friday 13 November 2015

WWE Network: Short Of Classic Archive Content By Richard Edmund

 Twenty months into the life of the WWE Network and the classic archive content is still in woefully short supply, especially when it comes to (now defunct) non-WWE promotions whose tape libraries have been gobbled up by Vince and co. But even when talking about classic WWE content, what's available to date on the Network doesn't scratch the surface of what could be potentially made available. The often-quoted reasoning for this is that, of all the content so far uploaded on the WWE Network, the archive content that they initially put on there (old MSG house shows and a dozen or so episodes of WCCW) was some of the least-watched footage on the service. As such, it's clearly been decided that what WWE Network subscribers want isn't pre-80's WWE (WWWF/Capitol Wrestling) or footage from territory promotions.

Those 20 episodes of WCCW they initially uploaded have only been added to once, a singular episode made available out of order to celebrate black history month. Outside of this brief look at WCCW (one of the most historically important promotions in a number of great wrestler's careers) there is simply no territory footage available and (when looking at the content WWE has at their disposal) it's a crying shame. Here's the list of tape libraries WWE currently owns and yet does nothing with, at least when it comes to the Network;

. American Wrestling Association
. Central States Wrestling
. Championship Wrestling from Florida
. Eastern States Championship Wrestling
. Georgia Championship Wrestling
. Maple Leaf Wrestling
. Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
. Mid-South Wrestling/UWF
. Smoky Mountain Wrestling
. Stampede Wrestling
. World Class Championship Wrestling

The wealth of classic wrestling content across those eleven tape libraries is simply staggering, yet it's footage most fans will never get to see and (to WWE's mind) that's just as well, because why go through the arduous process of restoring and digitising archive content when Network subscribers just will not watch said footage? To older fans, or those who have gone back and sought out wrestling from the territory days, any such uploads to the Network would be very warmly welcomed, but WWE's data suggests that those fans make up a very small minority of subscribers and, therefore, shouldn't be catered towards. It makes complete sense from a business standpoint, but it still rankles to see so much quality wrestling essentially going to waste, when it could be given a new lease of life and introduced to a whole new era of fans, with the right approach.

And therein lies the problem - WWE's approach thus far has been to upload a few dozen out-of-context episodes onto the Network and then, after said episodes are watched by only a relatively miniscule number of subscribers, throw up their hands and say "well, we tried!" before forgetting the notion altogether. Why should someone who's never heard the name Von Erich start watching World Class? The WWE Network offers no answer to that question and many others, leaving the Vault section of the service looking like the oft-forgetten black sheep of the family. It's not enough to simply upload episodes (although fans such as myself would be greatly appreciative of that gesture, all the same), you have to give the fans a reason to care about the content, an insight into its worth that is currently lacking in the extreme.

But with all the resources WWE has at its disposal, surely such a thing should be possible? Younger fans might not be clamouring to watch random episodes of a territory they've likely never heard of before, but perhaps they'd watch a current superstar introduce and explain the importance of that footage. A Steve Austin or Mick Foley type, running through a top 10 of their favourite GCW matches, for instance. Or current WWE Superstars talking about the characters and matches that were an influence to them while them growing up. An MST3k-style show where WWE Legends gather to watch a selection of classic (and not-so classic) matches and shoot the breeze. Or, put WWE's top-notch editing and video package people to work making mini-documentaries that chart the history and explain the importance of classic feuds or promotions themselves. 

The question, ultimately, is whether any of that is worth the effort to WWE and (judging by the dearth of recently uploaded archive content) it certainly doesn't seem that way, which is a real shame. Without WWE giving legal access to the libraries they own, those passionate and devoted enough will find the footage elsewhere, but it still seems a shame to me (and a real waste) that so much classic content isn't being made available and that zero attempts have been made to introduce and make such content accessible to newer fans.

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