Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WWE Launch Day Subscriptions Estimates

The WWE Network launched yesterday. (For a full chronology of the lead-up to this huge event, please check out the other sixteen pieces I've written about it.)

Launch day was predictably bumpy. There were many complaints about access issues prompting the WWE to quickly throw partner MLB Advanced Media under the bus.

“Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), WWE’s technology partner, was overwhelmed and their systems have been unable to process most orders since 9 a.m. due to demand for WWE Network,” the company said in a statement.“MLBAM has been working aggressively to resolve this issue,” it added.
A Variety article published that afternoon added:
According to MLBAM, the initial demand at 9 a.m. Eastern exceeded anything the company had seen in its history and overloaded the company’s e-commerce processing system. Reps for WWE and MLBAM said all issues were resolved by mid-afternoon Eastern time.

For a few hours when you ordered the WWE Network, you received a "confirmation email" from the WWE. Here's mine from 2:35 PM (Central Timezone):

This was very interesting as Ian Hamilton pointed out, it appeared they were giving out sequential numbers starting somewhere north of 11100000. By Tracking them, as David Bixenspan set out to do, we could informally track subscriptions leading into Wrestlemania.... That is, until WWE wised up to our scheme.

Still, between 8 AM and 4 PM EST, WWE Confirmation Emails were sent out with Order Numbers. With more than fifty respondents, we had a sufficient dataset to start looking at the patterns:

Basically, the first order we heard about was 8:12 AM EST (11187725) and the last order was 4:02 PM EST (11317813).  So, our data suggests that over the course of about eight hours (8 AM-4 PM), there was more than 130,000 signups.

  1. Things really seemed to crash between 9 AM EST and 1 PM EST.  It seems that less than 11,000 orders were processed during those four hours.  (We have 8:59 AM EST at 11199730 and 1:18 PM EST at 11210618.)
  2. It's not completely clear what the starting number was.  If we assume 11100000, then there was almost 90,000 orders prior to 8:12 AM EST.  That seems like a lot to me, especially for a service that wasn't officially online yet.  If that were true, it would imply 8AM-4PM signups were almost 70% higher (more like 220,000+).  I am becoming dubious about assuming that 11000001 equals order #1.  
  3. 1:15 PM to 1:45 PM EST was probably catching up on the backlog of orders. Nearly 50,000 orders were processed in about twenty-five minutes (almost 33 orders per second).  This was really more likely the sum total of 4.5 hours worth of orders.
  4. Things seem a lot more steady from 2 PM to 4 PM EST.  Order numbers jumped by about 46,500 during the final two hours of tracking with fairly similar hourly numbers: 2 PM to 3 PM: +24,000, 3 PM to 4 PM: +22,500.    
  5. We run out of data just when things got interesting.  Did the pace of sign-ups increase again after 5 PM EST when people finished school and work and headed home?  What was the effect of all of the plugs for the Network during Monday Night Raw?  Did we see a post-show swell?
If we pretend that there was no change in order momentum (or that it averaged out from low to high to low again), the midpoint model would suggest that around 12:01 AM on 2/25/2014 the WWE Network final confirmation number would have been around 11439186.  That would end day one at a little over 251,000 signups (plus however many signed up before 8:15 AM EST.)  Some may choose to read that 439,186 signups, but I think that's way too generous. Either way, the point is rather moot because our trendline only covers about four hours of real data (8 AM-9 AM and 1 PM-4 PM).

Really, what this data tells us is that hardcore fans because they're the ones that are most likely to have signed up at the beginning of the service (say between launch and 2 PM), about 80,000 people signed up.  That's in line with what we would expect from "hardcore fans".

Also, even though the WWE Network launch was only supposed to be for US customers, international (especially Canadian and UK) customers found work-arounds (signing up through AppleTV, using Paypal, utilizing VPN/Proxy servers).  It's hard to really know how many int'l users "snuck" through, but consider that in our survey almost 17% of the users responded using a GMT timestamp.  I hardly believe that geographically our sample group was representative of the WWE Network usership at large, but it suggests that it would be entirely feasible that thousands, even tens of thousands, of first-day signups were from non-domestic customers.

> So, in your" expert" opinion, what's your guess for first-day signups for the WWE Network?

I'd guess that the WWE Network did somewhere between 250k and 350k signups for day one.

  • If we trust the survey data, we know they had at least 130,000 by 4 PM.
  • Going forward, just averaging 16,000/hour would have essentially doubled subscriptions to 260k by midnight.
  • If they had a huge influx of new subscribers (say almost 50k/hour) between 9 PM and 11 PM, they could have hit 350k by midnight.
> Is that a good number?

Hard to say.  (Easy answer, right?)
  • If they have 300,000 first-day subscribers that aren't just using the free trial and plan on actually subscribing (along with auto-renew), that's a decent number, especially since we're more than a month away from Wrestlemania.
  • It will be important to look at conversions for "free trial" subscribers in one week.  Will we see a big influx in early March from new converts (or word-of-mouth)?  What happens in August when the first 6-months ran out?  How many people chose "auto-renew"?
  • They still need to hit a million subscribers just to make the project break-even.  This week was the low-hanging fruit - hardcore fans, post-PPV buzz, post-Olympics big Raw with Hogan & UT & Brock drawing eyeballs. I figure new subscribers will trickle to a few thousand each day before surging again the week before Wrestlemania.
  • My guess two months ago for full-year WWE Subscriber average was 415,000.  That wasn't to say they wouldn't be above 415k for part of the year (obviously during the WM season), but by the end of 2014, I thought they'd only be in the 400k-500k range.  I'm not sure that anything has convinced me otherwise... at least not yet.
  • While it was inevitable that international subscribers were going to work hard to get in on the US launch, I don't believe that WWE was including those subscribers in their initial estimates for the overseas markets.  They needed at least 250,000 in those markets to break-even and I figure by Wrestlemania somewhere between 5%-10% of those int'l fans will may already be subscribing as "domestic" customers.

Do you have an order number you'd like to contribute to the mix?  Please submit through the Google Form at tinyurl.com/wweorders

Also, did anyone sign up for the free trial and also get a confirmation number?  I'd like to answer that question.

As far as we can tell, WWE stopped putting order numbers in the confirmation emails around 4 PM EST.

-Chris Harrington
email: chris.harrington@gmail.com
twitter: @mookieghana

Other recent pieces I've written:
WhatCulture: 10 Controversies of the WWE Network
Figure Four/Wrestling Observer: WWE Financials broken down #wrestlenomics style
Voices of Wrestling: 2013 WWE PPV Review & Financial Discussion


Anonymous said...

Good analysis, but the network is also available on Roku 1. That's how I've been accessing it.

Anonymous said...

NetFlix have over 40 million subscribers. 12-14 of them are outside US. NetFlix outside US is bad = every single NetFlix subscriber I know use US Netflix even with "geo location lock".
I think the WWENetwork numbers are like that. WWE have no incentive to work hard to stop overseas subscribers.
Geo unlock using DNS servers will always exist since US services have to be available for the US armed forces network. These numbers are leaked onto the net.
Either that users put in these numbers in their router or use a commercial service that do that for them.

I love the network. Have spend thousands of dollars in pirate satellite dishes, sky subscriptions, pirated tapes from the state. Finally I can give WWE money for their product.

Its just sad that Raw/Smackdown is 30 days late. Why? Many still have to pirate them since its not on the network. And if I pirate them, why not pirate the rest? All WWENetwork programming have already been posted in Usenet and other sites.

Raw/Smackdown with commercials so that USA network get money would have been acceptable.

///Eurofan WWE

Anonymous said...

WWE can't post Raw and SmackDown immediately because it would violate terms of their contract with NBC Universal. Otherwise they would.

Mike James said...

Great Analysis, I think there is alot of smart people waiting until April to buy the network since there is no PPV between now and April instead of burning their money now and wasting a month on a non PPV month.

Anonymous said...

i got my email around 1:35 eastern time and my number was 11228115 so im not sure how they ran.

Anonymous said...

My order number at 8:44am was 11194025