A few weeks ago, Impact Wrestling—formerly known as TNA—announced the launch of its own subscription video streaming service, the Global Wrestling Network. The announcement follows on WWE and numerous other wrestling promotions having launched their own over-the-top services in recent years. The hook appears to be that while it will launch with just archival TNA/Impact footage, it will eventually carry shows from promotions all over the world. Those that already work with Impact, like Pro Wrestling Noah in Japan and AAA and The Crash in Mexico, appear to be the most likely candidates.
Where this proposition starts to get dicey is that to go by what company president Ed Nordholm had to say in a recent interview (link behind paywall) with Wrestling Observer Radio’s Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez, the company is too bullish on the idea. Launching the service, if costs can be kept low enough by piggybacking onto sister company The Fight Network’s existing infrastructure, is one thing. But positioning it as Impact’s key revenue driver is another.
To put it kindly, financial difficulties, mismanagement, and TV outlet moves cost Impact Wrestling the vast majority of its audience and key talent over the last three years. Before that, even when the flagship Impact TV show was still seen by over one million viewers weekly, the company’s fanbase wouldn’t pay for shows, with pay-per-views usually in the 8,000 buy range according to Meltzer. In addition, when Nordholm’s Anthem Sports and Entertainment bought the struggling promotion, there was such a large surplus of merchandise in the company warehouse that Don West—the former TNA announcer and Shop at Home pitchman—had to be brought back specifically to liquidate the inventory. Perhaps most embarrassingly, at a time when live event attendance was struggling at best, the company dropped A.J. Styles due to the expense of his contract; he quickly became the biggest attraction on the independent scene. The message was clear: No matter how good the talent was, fans, whether casual fans or the company’s biggest diehards, simply would not pay to watch TNA.
Whatever name it’s gone by, this has long been a tainted brand. While the attempts at rebranding were moves that needed to be made, not much has ever really changed. Yes, there are new logos, new wrestlers, better shows, and green ring ropes, but the show still feels like TNA, as the Impact name was always closely limited with TNA as the name of their main TV show and said show is still shot at the same sad-looking, half-empty soundstage at Universal Studios. Maybe if Anthem had just let TNA die and started a new company without storyline continuity with the old promotion, the stench wouldn’t be as strong. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, though, the venue, was one that couldn’t be overcome. The promotion’s only real revenue is from international television rights, and since the company can’t draw a presentable crowd for TV on its own, it needs to tape TV somewhere with a steady supply of tourists looking to take in a show. That this leads to shows with flat crowd reactions doesn’t help matters, and it all results in a product that looks and feels like the old TNA, albeit a better version. The next batch of marathon tapings is, as of this writing, set to take place near Anthem headquarters in Ontario, Canada, and while it will provide a change of scenery, whether or not the shows will have a presentable crowd is a big question mark.
Cynically, you can even make the argument that with Nordholm stressing that the Global Wrestling Network is not an Impact product (which is why Impact isn’t directly mentioned in the service’s name), the promotion appears to be a surprisingly self-awareness about how distancing the service from the promotion could actually make it more palatable to hardcore wrestling fans. Impact—unable to draw money on its own or create a product that fans will pay for—will, in this line of thinking, benefit from owning the streaming home of promotions that are better, more popular, and/or have more cachet. There’s a big problem with that, though: They’re far from the only player on the market.
WWE Network greatly increasing the wrestling fan base’s adoption of streaming services has led to numerous other services popping up, both promotion-specific and aggregating content licensed from multiple sources. Japanese wrestling has finally become officially available around the world in a convenient, reasonably priced package with NJPW, DDT, Stardom, and other promotions launching non-region locked streaming services. On the indie scene, the rise of the PivotShare platform led to numerous independent promotions in the U.S. and U.K. launching their own services, as well as top wrestling merchandise vendor and DVD producer Highspots joining in. FloSlam and Powerbomb TV both provide an alternate outlet for indie aggregation, while NWA On Demand offers a wide array of classic matches from Texas, many of which were either never televised or not seen since they were first aired decades ago. There are also promotions offering pay tiers on YouTube, which also has a wide array of official uploads that you can watch for free, as well.
In other words, there’s a whole lot out there, and there were even more options before promotions that weren’t able to get enough subscribers dropped their PivotShare-based services due to the expense making them run in the red.
Just how well anyone other than WWE is doing is difficult to discern because nobody else is a public company revealing subscription numbers every quarter, with only a few tells. NJPW’s service, NJPW World, hovers around the mid five figure mark (a few thousand of which are from outside Japan), which is good for Japan, where paid services haven’t really taken off. There are various indications that NWA On Demand has only had the smallest of niche appeals.
FloSlam, which announced its launch after a night of wrestling journalists (myself included) who had heard about about the projected budget tweeting about what a game-changer it was, has not been able to get marquee content to add to the anchor promotions from the World Wrestling Network. It also costs $20/month, twice as much as WWE Network, and a brief increase to $30 (when Flo initially merged all of its single-sport services into a combined subscription) erased the little goodwill that the service had left. It’s not surprising in light of those price shenanigans that the much-touted budget appears to be rapidly shrinking, as well. Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment promoter Josh Wheeler told Deadspin that two days out from a July show set to be streamed on Flo, the $1,000 rights fee he had negotiated via WWN months earlier was cut to just $250. It’s a far cry from early on, when Flo got WWN to drop its internet pay-per-view-based model and management spoke confidently of being able to lure major promotions like NJPW as well as streaming-averse boutique promotion Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.
Of the multi-promotion indie services, Highspots has shown the strongest indicators of doing good business. As a company whose lifeblood has long been mail order and live event sales, that most new DVD and Blu-Ray titles drop on the all you can eat streaming service the same day that the physical version becomes available is a strong sign. In general, sticking with PivotShare at this point is a strong sign of success, with PROGRESS and Revolution Pro in the UK as well as CZW in the U.S. are still going strong on the platform.
However, the “Demand PROGRESS” service is likely on borrowed time, regardless, as the promotion has a signed deal with WWE for WWE Network to stream their shows at some indeterminate point in the future. (Scotland’s ICW also has the same WWE deal.) This hammers home an important point: Just about anyone who’s left that can make a dent will probably be scooped up by WWE. The two indies with the most juice right now are PROGRESS and southern California’s Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, with the latter eschewing streaming in favor of selling DVDs and Blu-Rays, which somehow still works for them. If you want to stream PWG, Highspots does have their archive, but new shows are added only after a full year has passed.
With all of this in mind, though, there is no real path to success for the Global Wrestling Network in 2017, in part because Impact’s partner promotions don’t have a ton of buzz among English-speaking hardcores. Though the two Mexican promotions do strong enough business at home, The Crash does not produce video content with much regularity (that should change as they try to get a TV deal) and AAA is only followed week to week by the existing hardcore lucha libre fans. CMLL, the other major Mexican group and the oldest wrestling promotion in the world, does appear to have picked up some English buzz thanks to its multiple free live weekly streams (on YouTube and ClaroSports.com) and its alliance with NJPW. However, its notoriously conservative management would never, ever make a deal with what is effectively an American affiliate of AAA.
Pro Wrestling Noah, meanwhile, has been something of a non-entity for years, even with a pretty well-stocked talent roster, both at home and to fans of Japanese wrestling abroad. What was once the biggest promotion in Japan went into a freefall after their TV contract was cancelled and founder/top star Mitsuharu Misawa subsequently died after being internally decapitated in the ring. Curiosity increased when New Japan was openly subsidizing the company and sent over talent, but that ended when the company was sold out from under NJPW. Of Impact’s partners, it would likely provide the best programming on a show to show basis, but it’s not something that would build a network.
For the Global Wrestling Network, that leaves Impact’s own brand and its failed past iterations in the archive, and we already know how that story ends. The domestic TV contract with PopTV (the former TV Guide Channel), which pays a split of the basically nonexistent ad revenue, just got renewed, so barring major international developments, this streaming service is the company’s only hope for new revenue in the immediate future. Good luck with that.