The WWE has become a juggernaut corporation in professional wrestling and during their SxSports session, they were not shy about it, nor should they have been.
Professional wrestling has had its controversies in the past of being considered more of a sport or entertainment due to it’s predetermined outcomes and fictional storyline driven segments. But the WWE has embraced the label of sports-entertainment and has made a successful brand of it. Rather than wrestlers, the company refers to its roster as “superstars” playing into the theatrical element.
“Crushing the Second Screen” was a panel led by the “voice of the WWE”, Michael Cole, headed by WWE Superstar John Cena and Chief Branding Officer Stephanie McMahon (Daughter of Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon). Topping off the list was brand manager Perkins Miller who provided much of the statistical analyses that drove the panel’s topic.
The “second screen experience” as described by the panelists is the use of the WWE’s mobile app in sequence while watching the WWE’s flagship program Monday Night RAW.
They explained how they’re transcending entertainment by not only letting the audience interact with the show, but also dictate exactly what will happen night in and night out. The app allows fans to vote on who will participate in a match later in the night and/or what type of match it will be.
A question that arose during the panel, from the audience, was regarding Mark Cuban’s comments the day before about how technology use is interfering and negative hindering live sport atmospheres. Cena very effectively rebutted the question by differentiating between pure sport and sports entertainment.
He used an analogy of a football game. When a coach calls the play, no matter what the fans say, do or react, that’s the play that’s being called. In sports entertainment, the fans do dictate how a superstar reacts and the direction of the entire show.
The second screen experience goes beyond the mobile app and Cole explained the prominence of the company’s presence on social media.
McMahon mentioned the #hijackRAW movement started on twitter by WWE fans who were upset at the recent departure of headlining superstar CM Punk. The departure was believed to be actual and not a work (fictional story) by the company. #hijackRAW was meant to be a fan-driven takeover of Monday Night RAW in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois. The company became aware of the movement online, embraced it and it led one of the highest rated shows of all-time.
McMahon explained her father’s vision when he took over the company and how he has grown it into the international entity it is today. Perkins Miller keyed in on the recent launch of the WWE Network where most of the company’s archived matches and events is available for streaming.
Before the end of the panel, Michael Cole asked for John Cena to be excused early because he had a match later that day on the east coast. Cena is no doubt the biggest workhorse for the company since he was flown in from New York City that morning after participating in an event the previous night. But even as he had to make his way out the room, he made time to give handshakes and interact with the fans he had in attendance.
The second screen experience appears to be the way of the future for entertainment television and the WWE is showing to be ahead of the rest of the industry by leaps and bounds by their constant connection to their fan base.
As a lifelong professional wrestling fan, I was anticipating this session very much. I had been curious on how or if they would address the CM Punk situation and the #hijackRAW segment and was pleased when it was a focal point of their presentation.
I may not have been a fan of the company’s dependence on John Cena in the grand scheme of their product, but after hearing him talk and the natural charm he spoke with, I can see how easy he is to market as the face of the WWE.