Even before COVID-19 turned watching professional wrestling into a surreal and uncanny endurance test, it was hard to be a WWE fan in 2020. The sheer quantity of product is overwhelming, the politics are atrocious, and the company’s approach to healthcare is inhumane. Still, the siren song that is sports entertainment is hard to resist, especially for those who grew up enamored with its blend of theater, soap opera, and athleticism. And now it will be easier to access than ever before.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed today that WWE is launching a free version of the WWE Network, the trailblazing streaming platform it launched in 2014.
No, you won’t be able to watch the company’s monthly “pay-per-view” events with the free edition, nor will you have the full run of the app’s massive breadth of vintage WWE, WCW, and ECW content. You will, however, get access to some of that content, as well as “recent” episodes of Monday Night Raw, Friday Night Smackdown, and its NXT programming. Several of its original series will also be available to free subscribers, such as Ride Along and Table for 3. All told, the free version of the app contains roughly 15,000 hours of programming. WWE is also launching a new show for free subscribers, a Raw follow-up chat show called Raw Talk.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the free tier is that it will launch with no advertising outside of the company’s promotion for its pay-per-views and broadcast content. It makes sense, though; the network has had great success in turning free trials and content runs into paid subscriptions. Prior to this year’s Wrestlemania, for example, the network made a strategic portion of its content available to the general public, which, per a company executive, “proved to be a good acquisition strategy for us.” They really just want that app downloaded to your TV.
All of this comes after COVID-19 ravaged the company’s financials, leading it to cut loose a number of performers and employees over the last few months. Fold in the XFL’s recent bankruptcy filing and one can imagine that WWE overlord Vince McMahon is hoping for a miracle.
The free version of WWE Network launches today. Hopefully it lets you watch Royal Rumble 1992. That shit still rules.