Is iPPV dead?

In what has become an all-too-familiar occurrence, independent wrestling fans suffered through another weekend of internet pay-per-view hiccups and issues. This weekend’s offender, Ring of Honor, returned to iPPV Friday at the insistence of their former partner, GoFightLive.

ROH famously dismissed GFL as their iPPV provider after their tumultuous relationship came to a head during an embarrassing WrestleMania 28 weekend, where ROH’s iPPV Showdown in the Sun was barely viewable despite being one of the better ROH events in recent memory.

Hoping to prove themselves as a viable option in the future, GFL offered ROH a second chance, in the form of a free iPPV to prove once and for all they could handle the burden of iPPV.

The first half of Friday’s Death Before Dishonor show was flawless and it finally appeared that ROH and GFL had gotten over their PPV issues. However, the honeymoon was short-lived as the 2nd half of the show was highlighted by buffering wheels and refreshed pages. Before long most viewers had tapped out and websites like ours that had planned to review the show simply couldn’t give a coherent review having missed major portions of the show including the finals of the ROH World Title tournament.

Ring of Honor recently moved to a video on-demand model following continued issues hosting iPPVs on their proprietary server. They gave it one more go with GFL, for free and it still failed — the question becomes, what does this mean for the future? ROH CEO Joe Koff seems to believe GFL is still a option:

I would like to continue to explore therelationship. I want to expose the product, I really do. Of all theshows they produce, we’re the biggest that they do. … I definitely want to keep exploring the relationship. … We’d like to do it live, but if we can’t do it live we’d rather give them a good product that they can enjoy without any kind of criticism.

iPPV as a medium all together has taken its lumps over the past two years, Evolve and Dragon Gate USA, a duo of companies under the tutelage of former ROH head booker Gabe Sapolsky initially had great runs on iPPVs. Their proprietary service, WWNLive.com, was seen as the shining beacon while ROH was stumbling out of the tracks with GFL. Issues would arise from time to time but most of those could be chalked up to issues on the user-end. Over the last part of the year however, WWN Live has had their own issues including a bad showing at this year’s WrestleMania weekend and a string of less than stellar deliveries on iPPV stream quality that has hurt any user confidence in the product and the medium as a whole.

We interviewed Sapolsky some time ago and discussed iPPV has a medium, it was then that Sapolsky mentioned he had reached out to his former employer ROH about hosting their iPPVs on WWNLive. Sapolsky saw it not only as a way to make additional revenue on his website but it was undeniable also a power-play of sorts to his former employer. Moreover, Sapolsky reached out because ROH having issues on iPPV was a bad thing for independent wrestling as a whole. If users had no confidence in ROH’s iPPV experience, they were less likely to order a Dragon Gate USA show because in their mind iPPV’s never work (fair or not).

Since then however, Sapolsky and WWNLive have had their own litany of issues including this weekend when Evolve had so little confidence in their venue’s internet capabilities that they were going to surmize the situation at the arena and maybe broadcast the events live if the internet was good. Suffice to say, Evolve 23 and 24 were not shown on iPPV but instead we’re going to be available immediately after the show. As of the time of this writing, neither shows are available via video-on-demand due to a pretty poorly timed upgrade to the WWNLive servers.

Perhaps the most famous example of iPPV failing came last April at WrestleMania 29. It’s one thing for ROH, WWNLive and Evolve to have iPPV issues but these are the big boys, this is WWE. At least with the little guys you got a few glimers of hope before the inevitable buffer wheel, the WrestleMania 29 iPPV never even started. Viewers were given full refunds but the medium took another huge hit as far as customer confidence.

So now I get back to the title and question posed in this article — Is iPPV dead?

Part of me wants to say it is but I think there needs to be another angle investigated, that of the hugely successful iPPVs and one company which seems to be the shining light in a world of GoFightLive’s and WWNLive’s— USTREAM.

More specifically, USTREAM’s most successful clients: New Japan Pro Wrestling and Dragon Gate. That Dragon Gate sided with USTREAM instead of the company owned by their Dragon Gate USA brother (WWNLive) should tell you all you need to know.

NJPW has now had well over a year of nearly flawless iPPV presentations save for a few minor errors which was made up to the customer almost immediately. One of the mess-ups resulted in NJPW showing a portion of their card for free. No week after refunds, no free VOD shows but rather a free viewing. Instant gratification for any disappointed fan.

Dragon Gate recently jumped into the foray and have been tremendously successful on USTREAM opening their company and brand of wrestling to thousands of new eyes. Wrestle-1, the new promotion from brain of Keiji Mutoh recently launched on USTREAM and, you guessed it, it worked perfectly. Their follow-up on USTREAM hasn’t been announced yet but given the success of their Japanese brethren, things should go smoothly.

Stateside, Florida Underground Wrestling, home of THE Michael Tarver and Kahagas has had a nearly flawless run on USTREAM. I haven’t personally seen an iPPV presented by them but from everything I’ve read and heard, they typically go as flawless as NJPW, W-1 and Dragon Gate on USTREAM.

The relative success on this side of the spectrum leads to one question: why in the hell are these other companies not using USTREAM? To be honest, I can’t answer that. The prevailing thought is expenses, that USTREAM is too expensive and look at the companies using USTREAM, they of course have more budget than Ring of Honor or DGUSA but I frankly don’t buy it (no pun intended, seriously).

At my shoot job (believe it or not VOW doesn’t pay the bills, shocking, I know), I deal with social and multimedia and due to a recent initiative for live video streaming I began looking at options for our company. In looking at different plans and pricing I stumbled on this great comparison graphic provided by USTREAM that lays out pricing models for their streaming service. This was a great asset for the shoot job but even more beneficial for this crazy blog.

VoicesofWrestling.com - USTREAM

With my best guess, I’d say that NJPW, Dragon Gate and Wrestle-1 are all on the Platinum account. I honestly have no idea and don’t want to assume anything so if anybody knows for sure or would like to correct me, please do. Regardless, I don’t think they are on Enterprise. Most of USTREAM’s larger clients (CBS, PBS, TMZ) have constant streaming video throughout the day, every day. Those are clients that need unlimited storage, thousands of viewer hours, customized skins, etc. New Japan Pro Wrestling only shows at most one to two shows per month, there would be no need for them to be on Enterprise. Moreover, CBS and TMZ both have custom player skins which is a top feature of the Enterprise account. NJPW does not have a custom skin. They have everything else the Platinum account gives and broadcast their show sin 720p, they could just be lazy in utilizing all the features of their Enterprise account but I doubt it. I’m fairly confident NJPW pays $999 per month for USTREAM’s services.

For those having difficulty figuring out what the graph says here’s the essential breakdown:  After the first 5000 hours, it costs NJPW $.60 (3-hour show x $.20 per additional viewer hour) PER viewer to broadcast the shows. NJPW typically charges $25 for larger shows and has recently gotten into a rhythm of showing cheaper, b and c level shows for $10 & $15 shows. For those shows, the profit is phenomenal after they clear the first $999. On the larger scale shows, NJPW only needs 40 $25 purchases to make their $999 back. 5000 hours covers somewhere in the range of 1250-1667 iPPV buys, needless to say unless I am wrong about which tier they are in NJPW is making an absolute killing on iPPV. They have turned it into an absolute gold mine.

Ring of Honor routinely does four figures with their iPPV presentations and recieved upwards of 2,000 buys for the Final Battles. As evidenced using NJPW’s model, they can not only afford USTREAM, they could turn a substantial profit through it. DGUSA receives around 400-600 iPPV buys, occassionally topping out around 900-1000 while Evolve is a lot lower, but still only needs 40 buys to reach the break even point. Even the lowest Evolve show can likely get that amount of buys.

Argue all you want about the financial backing of Dragon Gate, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Wrestle-1 but Florida Underground Wrestling is thankfully the control in this situation. I won’t get into their details but if FUW can afford it, DGUSA and ROH can.

So what gives? Why are wrestling fans continually treated to substandard iPPV presentations when there’s clearly a working alternative. I’ve already proven the financial excuse is bull, so what is it? Unfortunately it appears to be a combination of stubbornness and ego. DGUSA and Evolve are under the same business umbrella as WWNLive, so expecting them to move to a more reliable and costly live stream provider is just not possible. There is no cost to Gabe, it’s pure profit so that makes sense. Ring of Honor, who the hell knows, they were first out of the gate with GoFightLive but since have broken away from GFL, started their own service, ended that and begun a new relationship with GFL.

At the end of the day, DGUSA, Evolve and ROH’s stubbornness, ego and refusal to find a real solution to iPPV issues has caused  immeasurable damage to the iPPV buying community. Speaking from experience, I have since stopped purchasing Evolve and DGUSA shows after being an avid buyer of their early iPPV offerings. The last straw was inviting friends over to watch a recent show and continually checking Twitter on my phone to make sure my issues weren’t isolated. We missed huge portions of the show and frankly didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as we should have. The shows were good, but you’re so worn out after continued frustrations seeing the buffering wheel that it takes you out of it.

In the end, we were offered free VOD but that was completely worthless. We were there to watch it live, as promised and it wasn’t given to us. It’s akin to CBS having technical issues during the Super Bowl and emailing everyone in America a replay link on Monday afternoon. Nice gesture for sure, but completely worthless. For a lot of us, half the pleasure in watching wrestling is the atmosphere, the moment and the excitement that comes with live events and broadcasts.

For the longest time, we weren’t able to experience a lot of our favorite wrestling promotions on internet pay-per-view and while it sucked, at least it was a known. This unknown abyss of should I or shouldn’t I order this iPPV is ludicrous. When you order a NJPW iPPV you know what you’re getting, you’re paying $25, $15 or $10 and getting the show, the matches and the promotion you paid for live and on-demand. Having to wonder what the internet connection of the VFW Hall or if Larry Dallas brought the right wires to the show is ridiculous. If iPPV is going to continue being done third-rate, the medium as we know it will be killed. Customer confidence will continue to plummet to the point where even reliable companies will see a loss in viewership because of a few stubborn, but powerful independent wrestling promotions.

iPPV as we know it isn’t dead but it’s gasping for air here in America. Until companies begin following the NJPW, Dragon Gate, Wrestle-1 and FUW model, us fans will continue to stare at buffering wheels for eternity.

 

Author: Rich Kraetsch

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