As WWE’s newest show is set to premiere tonight, what better topic to explore than the Mixed Match Challenge and how, when you really think about it, it’s the latest example of how Vince McMahon and company continue to innovate? The premise of the twelve-week series differs from any of WWE’s other programming, past or present, in that it is a tournament filled with twelve mixed-gender teams. We’ve seen a few tournaments in recent years, from the Cruiserweight Classic to the UK Championship Tournament, and most recently, the Mae Young Classic. However, Mixed Match Challenge offers more of a unique spin by pairing up male and female superstars for a tournament that promotes gender equality at a time when it is more important than ever.
The show will reportedly not focus too heavily on current Raw and SmackDown storylines. This will give the stars of Mixed Match Challenge a little freedom to break away from the same old script and present something new, while giving the audience a product that will likely feel a little different to the usual weekly servings. Something fresh. Something new.
The show itself is just the tip of the iceberg, however. The bigger picture here is the platform that Mixed Match Challenge is set to be broadcast on. Unlike the Cruiserweight Classic, this won’t be a new addition to the WWE Network (not until those of us in the UK are allowed to watch it two days later at least), nor will it be included in the TV guide on the USA Network. No, WWE is trying something new with Mixed Match Challenge, as the first showing of each of the twelve weekly episodes will be streamed live on Facebook Watch. You read that right, that social media site that likely occupies way too many of your waking hours has acquired the broadcasting rights to the show.
This is huge, as WWE is essentially entering uncharted territory. Once again, Vince McMahon’s empire serves as a pioneer of the ever-evolving entertainment landscape. Facebook Watch was only launched by the social media juggernaut in August. Currently only available in the US, it aims to be more like a traditional television channel in that the content appearing on it will have been carefully selected and paid for, meaning that none of Uncle Barry’s cat videos that plague your news feed will be found here. Yet, WWE is the first major brand to launch a show on the platform.
Others have been and will be quick to jump on the bandwagon, particularly if Mixed Match Challenge proves a commercial hit. Since the tournament was announced, a new reality show following New England Patriot Tom Brady has also been unveiled as coming soon to Facebook Watch. The snowball is already growing and gaining momentum.
While there is risk involved with trying something new, such as treating a social media platform as a television network, taking a chance is nothing new to Mr McMahon (and besides, Facebook is more accessible than most television networks in 2018). In 1985, WWE led the way for pay-per-view with The Wrestling Classic. It would be three years before the world of boxing would catch on, when HBO sold the Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks fight to home audiences in 1988. Boxing’s major attractions and pay-per-view have become synonymous over the past three decades, and in more recent years, the UFC has joined the fray with more than two hundred pay-per-view events under their belt.
But, while boxing promoters and the UFC continue to sell their fights through pay-per-view providers, Vince McMahon and WWE have moved on. Monthly WWE specials can still be purchased on pay-per-view of course, but they are more widely watched on the WWE Network. WWE’s dedicated streaming service costs a fraction of the price of a pay-per-view and offers fans so much more, including exclusive shows and a whole library of back-dated content. Netflix, Amazon and a few others may have started streaming content first, but there’s no doubt that WWE has led the way for more niche forms of entertainment in this area. And although viewers are paying less to see special attractions, WWE is quids in when it comes to almost guaranteed money in the form of Network subscribers. And that makes shareholders happy, too.
Technically, Mixed Match Challenge will be a streamed show, rather than one broadcast. And of course, other major shows are streamed on the likes of Netflix. However, what makes this different is that Facebook’s key business model isn’t as a part of the entertainment streaming industry, and users don’t need to subscribe to Facebook Watch; it’s free for anyone with (or without) a Facebook account, meaning the potential audience is much bigger than it is for anything on the major streaming services. In fact, the potential audience for Mixed Match Challenge is technically more than two billion.
The way we watch TV and consume content of all kinds has evolved at a faster rate than ever over the past decade, and trends are pointing towards services such as Facebook Watch being the direction we’re all heading in. It’s where we, as consumers, are to be reached.
WWE have always been a company to test the waters. It’s no secret that Vince McMahon is as ambitious as they come. From the moment he took over the reigns of the company from his father, he started expanding. At first, it was nationally, then he took it worldwide.
Before pay-per-view, the first WrestleMania was available to watch via closed circuit television at cinemas across America. Hell, even WrestleMania itself was an innovative risk, on which Vince staked his very own home. And today, in this social media addicted world, WWE was quick to ensure it took the lead. Rather than reacting later, they embraced Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube before many other entertainment brands even had an awareness of what a hashtag was. Is it annoying hearing Michael Cole plugging Twitter every week? Sometimes, especially when a match is in progress, but they seem to have gotten the social media marketing under control somewhat in recent years.
It’s also now evident that asking all of us to ‘use the hashtag’ has paid off, as today, WWE enjoys a Klout score of 98. Klout (not to be confused with the ill-fated Tout) measures social media influence. To put things into perspective, Barack Obama boasts a score of 99, while Justin Bieber sits at 92. There’s no denying that when it comes to social media, WWE is leading the way.
Not all risks pay off though, and Tout is one such example of this. For those who blocked this from their memories: Tout was a social media platform that attempted to be for video what Instagram is for photographs. WWE invested heavily in this and pushed it on TV for a short while, but it never caught on and was abandoned. It may not have worked out, but at least they tried.
And trying they are once again. Trying to innovate with a new show on a new platform. Mixed Match Challenge has certainly raised eyebrows and piqued the interest of many fans with the amusingly charming pairing videos that have been published on WWE’s YouTube channel. But will it succeed? History would seem to say so.