Things are looking grim for World Wrestling Entertainment and its money-losing streaming video service, the WWE Network.
In a sign of how hard the company is working to sign up new subscribers, the WWE announced Monday it will once again offer a one-week free trial to anyone who wants it.
The offer, which doesn’t even require people to provide a credit card number, is one of several recent indicators that the company isn’t getting much closer to the 1.4 million global subscribers it needs to make the WWE Network profitable.
The WWE Network gives fans access to the WWE’s monthly special events — which were previously available only on pay-per-view for a price of ~$55 each — as well as old wrestling shows and new wrestling-related programming.
The bad news for the company started in April, when it announced the WWE Network had only 667,000 subscribers after telling investors the service could debut with as many as 2 million.
The following month, it released an adjusted business outlook that said the network would lose the company $US50 million this year if subscription rates did not increase. That news, combined with a disappointing new TV rights contract, caused company stock to crash so badly that CEO and chairman Vince McMahon lost a third of his fortune in one day.
Though the WWE won’t release an updated subscriber count until it announces its second quarter earnings, it’s evident that things aren’t getting much better — even though it provided a free trial at launch and later offered a $US50 gift card to any subscriber who referred a friend.
Last month, it fired nine wrestlers and the head writer of its most popular weekly television show, Monday Night Raw, amid rumours that it was looking to cut costs to make up for the money it’s losing on the network.
And it has reportedly cut budgets and delayed production on two of the WWE Network’s original programs.
Though the primary hook for people to subscribe to the network — April’s WrestleMania supershow — has come and gone, the WWE appears to be launching an all-out offensive to gain subscribers at a crucial moment.
In August, the people who signed up when the service launched will no longer be bound by their six-month commitment, making them free to unsubscribe if they’re unhappy.
As part of its push, the WWE put on an unusually eventful episode of Monday Night Raw this past week, one that featured the return of former champion Chris Jericho and two other prominent wrestlers who had not been on the show for months.
Perhaps the biggest carrot for potential subscribers will come at August’s Summerslam event, where the WWE is expected to put on a rematch between two of its most popular wrestlers — John Cena and Brock Lesnar.
If the free trial and a star-studded Summerslam show fail to get people to sign up, the WWE likely won’t have another sales hook until January’s Royal Rumble.