Friday, November 17, 2006

Happy Birthday NECW TV

This week marks the second anniversary of New England Championship Wrestling's pioneering Internet television broadcasts, NECW TV.

NECW was the first independent promotion to produce an original weekly wrestling television program specifically produced for distribution via the Internet. It set off a slew of imitators and set a trend for wrestling companies to use the Internet as a direct means to distribute television programming. Both WWE and TNA have distributed Internet-only programming in the wake of our efforts.

This, however, was not my first foray into distributing wrestling programming via the Net. Back in 1996, I worked with Howard Brody and the late Hiro Matsuda on a project called RING WARRIORS. RING WARRIORS was actually re-voiced and re-edited matches from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Hiro Matsuda had obtained the rights from TV Asahi, the Japanese TV network that airs New Japan Pro Wrestling and owns part of the company, to distribute the shows outside of Japan. RING WARRIORS had achieved quite a bit success on Eurosport, the European equivalent to ESPN at the time, and the desire was to find a way to prime the product for an introduction to North America.

My suggestion was to find a way to engage fans via the Internet, specifically using streaming video, which was in its infancy at the time. The company made a deal with VDO Systems, who were developing streaming video technology at the time. A number of episodes were produced featuring Gordon Solie and Bruno Sammartino on commentary. The initial launch was to allow viewers the chance to watch the first week's show free, then charge a modest subscription fee to view subsequent weeks.

The first week's traffic was high, but since few people had broadband access in 1996, the viewing experience was not very good. The Internet aspect of the project was abandoned not long after that, although other attempts to launch RING WARRIORS continued until Hiro's passing in 1999.

I still believed that eventually, the Internet would become the "great equalizer" for small wrestling promotions. The ability to distribute a television product worldwide without a TV station or network was, and is, a revolutionary concept that has now become a reality.

I actually wanted to launch NECW TV a few years earlier, but did not have the staffing or resources to make it happen at the time. I remember being scoffed at by people who thought that no one would watch wrestling on that little screen within a screen. Logic dictated otherwise. At the time, we had roughly 3,000 unique visitors each month to our website without video content. Since we were not drawing 3,000 people per month live, that meant that there were many more people out there who were looking at NECW through that little window that was our website. It only made sense to open that window wider by actually showing them our promotion via streaming video, which by this time had become far more viable.

The launch of NECW TV two years ago was an immediate success. We went from 3,000 unique visitors per month to over 40,000 in the early going. We got significant publicity, including a story in the New York Daily News. While the major wrestling websites, with a few exceptions, ignored it, there was no denying that it started a trend. Within days of our announcement Jersey All Pro Wrestling announced a similar thing. Today, dozens of independent promotions worldwide utilize the Internet as a primary means to distribute their content. All this, two years before YouTube made "user generated content" an entertainment industry catch phrase.

Today, NECW TV enjoys a continued strong worldwide viewership. As a promotional tool, it has been an invaluable means of marketing our company. We have also kept it free. In fact the motto of NECW TV is "Free. On Demand. Worldwide." That always summed it up best for me.

As successful as NECW TV has been, it should be noted that I have never viewed it as a substitute for conventional television. Pro wrestling, much like other mainstreams sports, has always been an experience best enjoyed at full screen size on a conventional television set. Conventional TV is still the best mechanism to reach the most people.

In fact, NECW TV does air on a couple of town cable access channels, so there are some viewers who have seen it on conventional TV, but our goal remains eventually transitioning our content to being primarily produced for broadcast or cable. Having the ability to produce a weekly program on a zero budget is not to be underestimated. NECW TV is a means to end, as well as an end unto itself.

I'd like to thank the fans who have watched and supported NECW TV for these past two years. We have been seen in more than 60 countries and hope that all of you have enjoyed our programs. You have helped us rewrite the history of pro wrestling promotion and opened the door for dozens of unheralded talents - promoters, as well as wrestlers - to be seen and appreciated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Sheldon, NECW continues to lead the way for indy wrestling. Your vast knowledge has paved the way for numerous promotions to follow and has provided a valuable springboard for many of tomorrow's superstars.