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Behind the Line: WWE Network and Analytics

The other day I started watching the WWE network on my phone, and I noticed something curious, it required the location service to be on to feed you any video. WWE Network is a premium video streaming service, though, so why would that be necessary? At first I thought it was a result of someone being lazy with rights management. Then I realized something more interesting could be happening.

(Don’t worry, this isn’t only about wrestling)

The Missing Piece

Clicking around Youtube, I happened to hear Dave Meltzer talking about the confusing Jinder Mahal push. Early on, Dave says this:

“What are the metics?” Dave asks. He lists 2 measurements: TV ratings, and ticket sales. I’m counting PPV buy rates as ratings, by the way. He explains how these relate to India, and potential revenue that a marketable Indian star could generate.

So how does this feed back to the WWE Network app requiring location services? Because WWE Network is also a metric, and knowing where you are helps this.

The Netflix Approach

A former co-worker of mine once expressed excitement to me about the concept of Netflix producing programming. This was years ago, when they announced they were going to, and hadn’t actually released anything yet. He reasoned that because they know what you watch, that they will be able to determine what the audience is truly interested in. Rather than relying on a binary “did they buy a ticket at the box office” approach, and extrapolating information from that, like debut weekend returns and week 2 drop offs, Netflix can see a whole lot more.

  • How many times you re-watch something?
  • What movies you are interested in that you started watching?
  • Of those what did you think were good enough to finish?
  • What did you watch repeatedly?
  • What director do you like presenting what genre with which actors?

This can go on and on. They have access to all of this data and can drill down into it to make far more educated programming decisions than ever before. Is it any wonder that Netflix Originals have a pretty good track record.

Back to the WWE

The WWE Network is a surprisingly large offering, since it holds the entire video library from WWE, WCW, ECW, and several other promotions that the WWE purchased along the way, plus some exclusive original content. The WWE can use the same analysis that I outlined for Netflix to drive not only their network programming, but their promotional booking. Meltzer listed 2 metrics, but there are also merchandise sales and crowd reactions that drive decisions. That makes 4 ways to drive decisions, but 3 are primarily based on live attendance, which is a small fraction of the total audience, and won’t always mark a path to the coveted crossover star that appeals to new customers.

Analyzing the WWE network viewership may be a smaller pool than general TV audience, but tracking it is so much more accurate than a quarter hour TV rating. If I watch the Hardy Boyz at Wrestlemania 10 times, chances are I am really looking forward to seeing more Hardy Boys.

And the Location Services

Tracking viewership counts is straightforward enough, but that still doesn’t answer how location services fit in. Well, for WWE, regional appeal is a very real thing. Let’s say that Kevin Owens is bigger in Boston, and Seth Rollins is bigger in Tampa. This can affect how the WWE books shows in those areas, or what merchandise they offer at those shows. Or, you can see that while these 4 markets in a row are really hot for Shinsuke Nakamura, these other 3 aren’t. So WWE will feature him more prominently in the first 4 than in the later 3.

I still think that it’s sloppy and unnecessary to require location services be turned on rather than extrapolating location via IP Geo-location. Sure, IP Geo-location is not as accurate, but I can’t think of why WWE would need that much more resolution for location data.

The real reason?

Of course, the actual reason for using location services is almost certainly the more mundane. The WWE network is not available in all regions, so location services are used to block that out. That doesn’t explain why the WWE doesn’t use IP Geo-location for that anyway. Again, that’s accurate enough for these kinds of purposes. Really, this just got me thinking about the potential power of analytics through the WWE Network.

But what about games

Analytics are like TV ratings, but more accurate because the sample rate can be up to 100% of the audience, and more detailed. This applies to more than just video programming, though. Analytics are built into all sorts of applications and games to learn what users want from it. This allows all users to vote on what they want to be developed further. In a fighting game, is one character overpowered? Is it’s won/loss record really out of synch? In an FPS, is a certain map more popular than others? Can you look at how players use it and figure out what’s special about it?

When it comes to games, that is the information that the vast bulk of developers and publishers want. The goal is to understand what players want so we can give it to them. It can be cynically described as trying to keep people addicted to the game, or to wring the most money out of the player’s pockets. But the fact of the matter is that business gotta business. Most games are business, not hobby or charity, so everything needs to be paid for. Intelligence like this allows a better chance to learn from players enough to at least break even.

 


Kynetyk is a veteran of the games industry.  Behind the Line is written to help improve understanding of what goes on in the game development process and the business behind it.  From “What’s taking this game so long to release”, to “why are there bugs”, to “Why is this free to play” or anything else, if there is a topic that you would like to see covered, please write in to kynetyk@enthusiacs.com

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