Last June, when Apple announced iCloud, they did so by de-emphasizing the Mac. Steve Jobs explained that the Mac was now just another device—alongside the iPhone, iPad, etc—that connected to the cloud. The cloud was where your files would be. The “true” file was up there, somewhere.
For fifteen years, you could confidently say that the “true” narrative from WWE was Monday night Raw. But I don’t think you can say that anymore. The “true” narrative of WWE is now WWE.com.
WWE.com used to feel very much like an afterthought. It was a place to find the most rudimentary things that you’d think a wrestling website would have. It has been revised at a steady clip, has always clearly had a healthy budget, but was rarely the place to go for wrestling fans to get the most important stories about the narrative itself. For that, you had to watch Raw.
WWE.com was redesigned earlier this year. The change seemed sensible enough; the site was now more blog and entry-based. Permalinks made more sense, and content was easier to find. Due to these improvements, I’ve found myself linking to WWE.com more and more.
Raw has always been WWE’s flagship show, and that was true even when they were emphasizing Smackdown. Raw is more important to WWE than PPV’s (even WrestleMania, at least most of the year). But lately, if you only watch Raw, you’re not only missing out on stories happening on Smackdown, Superstars, and NXT, but you’re beginning to miss chapters in stories about the characters on Raw. This weekend was a prime example of this. Punk’s interruption of HHH at the San Diego Comic Con and his appearance at an indie show Saturday night will, I would suggest, never be shown on Raw. But the Comic Con video is available at WWE.com, and I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon there is a news item on the site about AAW.
Now, think about this. If you want to watch Superstars or NXT, you have to go to WWE.com. Smackdown is available in full a day after it has aired. Many segments on raw are viewable the next day. WWE.com is the centre of the universe. It’s the “true” narrative. Watching any WWE show on television these days means you’re only getting a slice.
WWE has been subtly doing this for a while. For example, the relationship between Daniel Bryan and Michael Cole debuted on NXT in 2010 before moving to Raw, and now Smackdown. To a television viewer, that would be understandably confusing. But to a WWE.com devotee, it flows just fine. They’re getting clips, stories, and explanation as scenes of the story unfold, regardless of where it aired.
The first thought I had about this was that WWE has emphasized the site for creative control reasons. There is no “network” deciding what WWE can and cannot do on their own site. But that seems unlikely because a) I’m not sure USA, SyFy, or any network is terribly concerned with policing WWE, and b) WWE makes a lot of money from advertising. Television is important, but what’s more important is being on the edge of technological distribution. Much like pornography, wrestling has always been on the very edge of this. Wrestling was the first “sport” to really take advantage of national and regional television. Wrestling essentially built the PPV market, as well as VHS/DVD live event distribution. WWE Classics on Demand was one of the first on demand cable channels to be offered internationally. WWE, like pornography and video games, bet on Blu-ray instead of HD-DVD for its premium HD releases.
The future is the web, and it’s very important for wrestling to carve out its place in the future before the rest of mainstream media gets there. By de-emphasizing Raw as the “true” narrative of WWE and replacing it with WWE.com—led with a transgressive story of a rogue champion out in the great wilderness of an independent wrestling life—WWE is carving itself a place in that future.
K Sawyer Paul is an author and publisher living in Toronto. He tweets and tumbls. In the wrestling world he is known for This is Sports Entertainment and The Footnotes of Wrestling.
Edited by Jason Mann.