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Pondering with Plumtree - Changing TV Habits: Breaking Traditional Model

Pondering with Plumtree is a column on the popular blog, TNAsylum, that is written by yours truly. The blog is focused towards being a fan site for TNA Wrestling fans where they can get news, rumors, opinions, and any and everything else, TNA Wrestling. Known as "The Haven for TNA Wrestling Fans", I'm hoping to bring some of my thoughts to an already impressive roster of columnist for as long as the site will have me. You can read the latest column here, or in the text below.


I'll throw this out there immediately - I'm a huge fan of the TNA Wrestling product as of late. I know the wrestling-heavy, bare-bones concept isn't for everyone, but the product is in a place where I have enjoyed it. However, no matter how much I've found enjoyment in the product, there is a small slice of me that worries about the future of TNA Wrestling, more specifically, it's TV deal with SPIKE TV. 

Sure, there are two sides to this issue. On one side is the "breaking" story by TMZ that SPIKE has refused to renew their deal with TNA Wrestling. A story that seemed rather random and out of left field for a medium that generally focuses on A-list celebrities and the D-listers our society are enthralled with. 

On the other side is the news straight from the horse's mouth - "we're still in negotiations". Pretty, raw, cut, and dry. Somewhere in the middle is where this all gets fuzzy and full of speculation. And for TNA fans, it's an empty void exhausted by lots of hope and yes, fear. 

Regardless, the TV deal discussions, negotiations, and possibilities are intriguing. Very intriguing. It's pretty safe to say that the pro wrestling business has changed over the past few decades. Television is now the be all, end all. Pro wrestling companies thrive off of the worth (or lack thereof) of their television deals. And this isn't just the pro wrestling business, but the entertainment business as well. The world of sports also now prioritizes television rights/deals over home attendance. 

With that said, the recent change in modern viewership and behavior - downright HOW we watch programming - has caused some stir in the traditional aspects that drive and generate revenue for pro wrestling. We seen this come to light in the WWE negotiations, and once again, with TNA and their bid to remain on TV (or in business) 


The Power Now Lies With The TV Viewer

During the late 90's - wrestling's boom period - there was competition in the marketplace, several great products and options, once-in-a-generation characters, and transcending superstars, but often neglected in this perfect storm of pro wrestling's heightened time was the sudden exposure of pro wrestling to it's audience on television. It was here where pro wrestling moved from Saturday night specials to weekly telecasts. Where TV went from having squash matches and setting up the upcoming live events to being the event.

It was during this time when cable, once a luxury in the homes of many, became common technology in the household. The expectation became more than thirty channels as an option for a television experience - our expectations much, much worse today. The days of searching and investigating for your next fill of pro wrestling between TV specials, borrowed VHS tapes, and of course, live events (when they made it to your town) were gone. You no longer had to seek pro wrestling as pro wrestling was coming to you. Same time. Same channel. Every. Single. Week. 

And then, it was twice a week - four shows - with additional new programming. Later, other "magazine-style" shows were added. 

And then the internet came around with all of it's bells and whistles of information, downloadable content and later on, some website called, YouTube was added to the mix. . 

Of course, (very) shortly thereafter, the viewing experience changed again with DVRs, on-demand programming, and online streaming networks.

Yet, where this all begins to get tricky again is the shift in not just television exposure, but the viewing habits. The days of appointment TV urgency is long gone. For pro wrestling, the urgency for the demand is no longer there. We all can pick and choose when we want to watch specific programming.

There are many sources and plenty of platforms to find pro wrestling today. WWE, NXT, TNA, ROH, NJPW, and then all of the indie feds you can watch on YouTube and Dailymotion. Not to mention, the vast unofficial library of past matches and events. Combine all of that with the over saturation of mere television content as a whole, and the change in television has placed Pro Wrestling in a peculiar bind. The need to make money, establish your brand, all while attempting to stand out as a product to viewers, who have tons of options, and to networks, who also have tons of (cheaper) options.

WWE Network Devastation

Even with the sudden shift in power, pro wrestling still needs live and traditional cable television for awareness and revenue purposes, unlike other television shows which have evolved with the changes and can become successful through Netflix, Hulu, and other content through subscriptions and some minor advertising during the content. Ratings, albeit becoming increasingly difficult to truly capture a shows interest  and quality among the masses, still rules the day for network execs and show producers. 

We've seen the WWE attempt to take that next step in flowing with the current trend or catering to the consumer while cutting out the middle man (TV Networks) with their streaming network. Although, from public knowledge, and of course, their constant sales-pitch on their television programming, the demand just isn't there for such a network - well, not as of yet.

Nonetheless, the WWE Network has killed the demand other companies can offer, not just for TV, but for pay-per-view (more on that in a few...)

Considering the trend in television viewing as we all take an a la carte approach to our viewing interests, a first run network is very interesting.  


Live Experience Effect

For pro wrestling, this is a drastic change from the live event priority that once ruled the entertainment medium before the 90's. TV has obviously changed the deep feel of live pro wrestling which gravitated fans to must-see live events into an "episodic" format playing out on TV that moves and drives the product week in and week out. 

It's something I touched base on in a prior PWP column, but the idea of the "house show" has become an interesting one. As attendance for these shows fall across the board for all companies (or as rumored to be the case), many of these types of shows have become non-important. With wrestling becoming more of a TV product than a "Live event" product, there is a feel of "nothing important happening" at house shows. Many pro wrestling house shows now have the feel of pre-season or spring training games. Sure, a die hard fan will attend because the band is in town, but don't expect much because it doesn't matter. It doesn't count. Nothing on the show matters towards the real product, which is driven by story lines on television. 

In some instances, you'll be lucky to get the top stars at these shows. All of this seems like a format ready to bottom out in a world of over saturation and ready-to-be-watched content at home. 

It's a topic rarely discussed, but somehow, all companies must find a way to improve it's non-televised events in an industry in which TV is now driving the product. Sort of ironic, huh?


Traditional Pay-Per-View Dying

Another effect in the change of television habits is the pay-per-view industry. The industry leader has seemingly thrown in the towel on the model and format. Now using the Network's subscription as a reason to view these events, the WWE is continuing to forge the trend leaving behind the old concept and forcing pro wrestling into the next realm of television trends and experience. It also gives them options onto second screen devices, another growing trend. 

Let's not forget and have revisionist history, at one point, it seemed TNA was well aware that this was the future. Anyone remember TNA's Video Vault?

As a consumer, paying a monthly fee for all the programming sounds much better than the constant monthly wallet grabs of the past. 

Nonetheless, regarding the issue of pay-per-view, the growing concern about TNA's "biggest event" of the year (is it really?) and the lack of promotion, build-up, and mention of Bound For Glory is growing by the day. As each IMPACT comes and goes without mention of BFG, the more apparent this issue becomes. And while there are plans, it's obvious that PPV is not a priority. Or even a concern.

A year or two ago, we heard and read that the reason TNA moved to four large pay-per-views events per year was to allow the product ample time to build stories. In part, we've also seen various "One Night Only" events being taped randomly (possibly to fulfill previous contractual obligations?). The ONO events are filmed for the purpose of producing additional content. Are multiple PPVs at a cheaper rate more profitable than monthly ones at a much higher rate? Only TNA can answer this, but with both companies shying away from the old one-month events at 40+ dollars a pop, it's obvious a change is on the rise. 

Though, one has to question the model of attempting to cater to casual fan interest with a show completely removed from what ultimately drives the interest of the company - IMPACT television story lines and happenings. It's an interesting conundrum, and to be honest, one that I'm glad I don't have to help solve. 

Today, it seems PPV only maximizes it's efforts and benefits for boxing (tremendously, actually), and to a smaller scale, MMA. Boxing is ideal because of the under saturation of the sport. You just don't see Flloyd Mayweather in a fight every Wednesday on SPIKE TV.

---

The longtime format of four weeks of television shows, a pay-per-view climax, and a few house shows to appease fans in between worked so well for so long, but now it appears fractured. Not irreparable, but definitely in need of fixing. Or altering. Or yes, even just scrapping. From an overall product quality perspective, and possibly from a fiscal perspective as well. 

With so much content available in pro wrestling (again, over saturation), fans are no longer willing (or urged) to shell out money to see a product they can view later in the week on their own time. Or sometimes, the very next night. And dare I say, how many of us simply find illegal streams for the PPV events now? 

As TNA looks to nail down it's next television deal to secure it's future, the landscape of pro wrestling is currently in a change. It's in a unique bind as it attempts to keep up wit modern changes to formatting, accessibility, viewing behaviors, and demand, while keeping the essentials needed for survival - mere presence and yes, making money.

And of course, they must do so while riding that rare fence of being a TV product AND a live event product at the same time. 

I won't say it'll never happen, but I have a hard to time picturing the future of wrestling being viewed the way we watch some of our favorite shows through binge watching sessions. I still think we're a long way from "Hey, did you watch season eleven of IMPACT Wrestling? Much better than season ten, right?" Then again, who knows? Maybe that's where the industry is headed eventually. Maybe some of you do that now? I'll be completely honest, I catch IMPACT on DVR. Same with Raw. On my time. 

And unlike the USA Network with Raw, I really don't watch SPIKE TV for anything else beyond IMPACT Wrestling. Again, both sides of the coin to the TV deal issue for TNA and SPIKE. That's just me. 

While the focus and need is still to simply land a television deal, and it very well should be, the glaring issues beyond this deal for TNA, as well as other pro wrestling companies moving into the future, are on the horizon. Because of the change in viewership, TNA will eventually have to find ways to adjust to the changing market in how they present their product, and of course, how they can maximize their product for profit.

And that's on the agenda once they land a new TV deal, the biggest hurdle of them all. 

Television, the once game changer for pro wrestling, and the lifeblood of the industry, is now shifting and breaking the traditional business mold of pro wrestling, and in some ways, moving on without it.

Will the pro wrestling industry eventually be able to make the change?


Random Rhetoric

Anyone else felt weird watching IMPACT on Wednesday? And won't it take some getting used to?

Did you also mistake the next day for Friday too? And if you did, doesn't it show you how ingrained the product is in our lives?

As TNA secures more and more TV deals overseas, doesn't TNA's existence and fanfare continue to be intriguing, bordering on inexplicable?

Were you also blindsided by the Bully Ray rumor?

When does TNA get that ever-so-highly endorsement from the IWC for the find of Bram and EC3?

Are you buying Magnus as someone who was once a hooligan in his past?

How interesting is James Storm right now?

And doesn't he have some type of The Undertaker meets Raven kind of vibe going right now?

And finally...

I'm no TV expert, but considering the amount of channels in need of programming and the amount of ridiculous TV shows on the air, am I only one baffled that in 2014, pro wrestling (as consistent as it is) is still either shunned or considered "low brow" entertainment?

As always, feedback is very much welcomed. And feel free to follow me over in Twitterland at www.twitter.com/domepondering.

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