What WWE and HBO have in common

I watched Wrestlemania online last Sunday. It was a spur of the moment decision, I actually didn't remember it was taking place until that afternoon. I probably wouldn't have watched it if Sunday Night Football was in season or there was a movie my girlfriend and I had been looking forward to renting. I definitely wouldn't have spent $50 on it as was the case a few years ago. All pay-per-views are now included on the WWE Network, and they've done a great job of turning it into an impulse purchase for casual fans like myself. There's no long-term commitment and it's easy to cancel online at any time.

As a consumer, I really like this. I sign up for $10 and if I find it valuable I keep paying. If not, I can easily cancel online and re-subscribe the next time there's something interesting to watch. HBO Now will have a similar dynamic. Sign up for Game of Thrones or another hit series, and it's up to them to provide enough compelling content to keep consumers paying throughout the year. Same goes for any channel launching its own streaming service (CBS, Showtime, Nickelodeon, and surely more to come) or sports focused package. For example, will basketball fans stay with Sling TV when March Madness and the NBA Playoffs end? Other benefits of this dynamic include giving subscribers access to their content on multiple devices and making the user experience as painless as possible. This wasn't necessarily the case with the old pay TV bundle.

HBO and WWE both have differentiated content that they guard closely. The only way to watch HBO shows as they air is through cable, they don't become available to purchase online or on discs until months after a season completes. The only way to watch WWE is through the WWE Network or cable TV, depending on the program. They keep their content off of YouTube and the WWE website only has short clips available.

Now both companies are attempting to appeal to a broader audience. HBO is doing this by becoming available to fans without cable TV. They're doing this despite the fact that it may help break apart the pay TV bundle, which their parent company Time Warner profits from through cable channels TNT, TBS, CNN, etc. WWE is doing it by making its biggest events more accessible to casual fans. Hardcore WWE fans are then monetized through TV deals for Raw and Smackdown, licensed merchandise, live events, etc. They're attempting to bring in more fans and covert some to hardcore fans through tons of content included in the WWE Network subscription. To me, this looks like a long-term bet on growing the audience for professional wrestling. Some fans would likely pay $100 or more for Wrestlemania, but that would be milking the current fan base for everything it's worth while alienating casual fans.

One big question remains for both HBO and WWE. Will they gain enough new subscribers to make these moves worthwhile? Will enough new fans sign up for WWE Network that it makes the investment and lower pricing worth it? Will enough people sign up for HBO Now that any cable subscribers Time Warner's other channels lose worthwhile? These are calculated risks. Personally, I hope they pay off because I like this new model much more than the old one.

Side note... One thing I might change would be to add tiers to these online subscriptions. Casual fans can subscribe to get current seasons of HBO shows new movies or the WWE Network's 24/7 programming. I'd charge more for bigger fans that want access to the back catalog, though. The value is there for the casual fan at these prices, and bigger fans will be willing to pay more to rematch their favorites or get caught up on something they missed.