Storylines: The Death of PPV

October 5, 2010

It is no secret that pro-wrestling PPV buy rates are falling at an alarming rate. TNAís buy rates on PPV are almost none existent and WWEís, while doing considerably better than TNAís, are nothing to brag about and are dropping also. Last I heard, bad TNA PPVís were getting as low as 8000 buys and WWE buys have dipped as low as the 100,000 range domestically in recent months. There is a lot of discussion among industry insiders and analysts as to what is causing this drop and while everyone wants to point at, over exposure of the product, the economy, the same guys on top, inability to elevate new stars, along with a whole host of other reason I think the single biggest cause of the PPV decline is Storylines.

Iím not talking about bad Storylines or ineffective Storylines, Iím talking about the fact that this business no longer books Angles in order to sell matches on PPV, they write Storylines and then have matches on PPVs that are designed to further said Storyline. Now I realize that many people just view Storylines and Angles as different words describing the same thing but I think each term puts the creator in a different mind set and thus result in a different product. Letís look at each case individually and you can tell me which should be more effective.

The way wrestling used to be promoted, Angles were booked on TV to create interest in a match that fans would then pay to see on PPV. The booker decided that (just as an example) Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage for the IC Title will be a match at WrestleMania III. They then had to book an Angle that would put these two people on a path that would intersect at WrestleMania. This is key; an Angle is whatís created when two lines intersect, and that intersection point is the single most important point of the Angle. That point is a wrestling match and what you sell on PPV. They had Savage injure Steamboat and dominate the IC Title picture in Steamboats absence. Then Steamboat came back and vowed to not only win the title but get revenge for the beating he took at the hands of Savage months earlier. The WWF was not selling a Storyline here, they were selling a match, and the Angle was the means by which to make fans care about that match. The week before WrestleMania no one was thinking, ďWhere does the Savage - Steamboat Storyline go from here?Ē Everyone was thinking how great itís going to be to finally see Ricky Steamboat kick Randy Savageís ass. They were selling the match not the Storyline; it was the conflict that would be settled that night that was the be all and end all of this Angle. Fans needed to see WrestleMania III in order to see the Savage - Steamboat Angle come to a head. Fans needed to feel that this match was the conclusion of the Angle in order to make them willing to pay for it.

Fast forward now to Hell in a Cell this past Sunday, because it was the promotion of this show on The Score here in Canada that drove this point home for me. John Cena and Nexus are currently in a Storyline. They arenít on a collision course; they have been in each otherís business for months in a weekly episodic Storyline. We are all but told each week to tune in and see how this Story unfolds. When I watched SmackDown this Friday there was a bit during the commercial break where they plugged RAW, by all but saying, ďJohn Cena faces Wade Barrett Sunday at Hell in a Cell, tune in to RAW on Monday and see how this Story unfolds, will John Cena join Nexus or will Nexus disband.Ē This is where it all became crystal clear to me. They are no longer selling the matches, they are selling the Storylines, and even if they write great Storylines and I get into them, I donít have to actually see the matches to keep up with the Storylines.

I wanted to know if John Cena would have to join Nexus, but I didnít have to purchase the PPV to find that out, because the ongoing Storyline is continued on TV on Monday for free. The match they are trying to get me to pay for is not the focal point of all of this; it is just where the direction of the ongoing Storyline is determined. They are selling us on Storylines yet trying to get us to purchase matches.

Matches have become the tools used to get over and continue Storylines; they are the little pieces to the bigger ongoing Storylines. Why would we pay for the small pieces of the bigger picture we get on TV for Free? With Angles, the Match or pending conflict, the thing we are expected to pay for, is the big picture and the Angle, what we get on TV for Free, is the tool used to hype the match we are expected to buy on PPV.

I havenít heard the Hell in a Cell buy rate yet, but the Monday night RAW rating just came in and it pulled a 3.3, which is way up from last weekís 2.7. That tells me that people were very into the Cena Ė Nexus Storyline, because people tuned in to find out where the Storyline would go next. If the buy rate for the PPV is not way up as well, that tells me that fans despite being into the Storyline did not care that much about the match itself.

If you want to draw money on PPV you need to book some Angles and sell fans on the Matches being important, not charge them for matches that simply help continue the Storylines.

Thatís my 2 cents.
Lance Storm