Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand the process of the WWE Network when I first subscribed. Out of my own, sheer greed for wrestling’s history, I’ll be honest. I was impatient. But after doing a little bit of research on The Network, I can now say that I have a better understanding about why it takes seemingly forever for a certain wrestling show to make it to The Network.
In order to understand the process, let’s take a look at what the WWE currently owns the television rights to:
All of the Capitol Wrestling/WWWF/WWF/WWE tape library, including all Coliseum Video tapes, Titan Sports, etc.
American Wrestling Association (1957-1991)
Georgia Championship Wrestling (1944-1985)
Eastern/Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW)(1992-2001)
Memphis Championship Wrestling (2000-2001)
Ohio Valley Wrestling (1998-2008)
Deep South Wrestling (2005-2007)
Florida Championship Wrestling (2007-2012)
Smoky Mountain Wrestling (1992-1995)
Stampede Wrestling (1948-1989 except for Bret’s matches, Bret owns these.)
Global Wrestling Federation (1991-1994, half of this is shared with ESPN)
World Championship Wrestling (WCW) (1988-2001)
Jim Crockett Promotions (1931-1988)
Eastern States Championship Wrestling (1945-1973)
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (1973-1988)
Central States Wrestling (1950?-1986)
Championship Wrestling from Florida (1961-1987)
Championship Wrestling from Georgia (1984-1985)
NWA Tri-State/Mid-South Wrestling/UWF (1950-1987)
World Class Championship Wrestling (1966-1988; Angelo and Mario Savoldi own the final years of 1989-1990)
Maple Leaf Wrestling (1930-1995)
That’s a good several hundred hours of wrestling footage to cull from right there. Currently 87 years worth of grapples, holds and submissions, not counting what they can use from the public domain from the likes of say Gorgeous George or Lou Thesz. And this isn’t even counting the WWE film library of movies, TV shows and ads. This is just wrestling footage.
So this leads us to the actual film elements. While a bulk of WWE’s current library resides on VHS tapes, some of the older tapes came to the WWE main office in the form of Betamax tapes, Super 8 film and deteriorating, low quality, cheap stock film. This requires special, often expensive equipment to play. But this is just the start of it.
The first problem is in separating the film. While the ECW tapes were properly labeled and categorized, WCW tapes were dumped un-labeled into cardboard boxes. Each tape can hold between 6-10 hours of WCW programming, and may include ads, extras, and a wide litany of other programming on it. One tape may have two episodes of Nitro. Another may hold Thunder and Main Event. The cataloger isn’t going to know exactly what is on the tape until he puts it into the company VCR. Each box can hold tapes from any year. One box may have two 94 tapes, one from 2000 and one from 89.
The second problem comes during the transfer process. Once a tape has been re-labeled, someone now has to take that footage off of the tape and onto a computer. If the tape is in good shape and complete, great, wonderful. But if the tape warbles, flips, skips or is missing matches, guess what? Now they have to make phone calls, find excess tapes, even call back the families of the people they have purchased the tapes from in order to splice together a complete show.
A prime example of a spliced tape is Royal Rumble 1992. The original PPV cut skipped a few backstage interviews, and had live cheering when Hulk Hogan was eliminated by Sid Justice. However, the VHS version sold to consumers put back the interviews but dubbed over a fake booing track when Hogan was eliminated. The current version on The Network restores the original cheering and splices back in the lost interviews. Other examples include various episodes of Monday Night Raw, in which “Extra Attitude” segments at the end of the show splice back in lost clips originally aired for the live audience only, and the first season of Tough Enough, which splices back in segments MTV cut for time, most notable being the Triple H episode, where a restored clip shows the current COO shaking hands and offering sound advice.
Once the footage is spliced back together, it’s time for formatting. It isn’t enough to just fix the saturation and contrast and re-render the footage in HD, you also have to fit the footage to the screen. For example, Raw has only been shot in 16:9 letterbox since 2014. Until then, it was shot at 4:3, which means that for each episode to fit onto a modern television set, you either have to zoom way in, chopping up the sides of the screen, or you present the episode with black bars on the sides, focusing the original footage in the center. Most of the WWE’s archive can fit onto a 4:3 CRT monitor, but needs to be shown on black bars for 16:9 screens.
Next comes dubbing. And let’s face facts. If you have ever tried to upload a video to YouTube, then you already know how greedy the RIAA is when it comes to music. Many of the tapes feature songs that require extra cash and new contracts between the WWE and the RIAA, not to mention the musicians, composers and companies producing said tracks.
How much are these people wanting? Well let me be clear. In order to pay the ransom these music rights holders would want, the WWE would have to give up every wrestler on 205 Live and a few on NXT. Which would you rather have, the future of wrestling or a Limp Bizkit track from 2001? Yeah. I thought so. This is why several tapes have in-house music now.
There’s also a rights issue outside of the music. For example, Bret Hart owns the rights to his matches from Stampede Wrestling, while the WWE owns everything else. In order for Bret’s matches to air, the WWE has to contact Bret and ask for permission and then pay him a stipend. Fortunately, many of these tapes comes from Bret himself. But these are other tapes in which certain wrestlers or families of wrestlers may have to be compensated separately.
This leads us to the contract issues. While the WWE has been sued for the rights of several tapes, each lawsuit has been dismissed. Why? Because of how the tape library is purchased.
Each tape was either bought outright from a promoter’s family, or it was purchased during a bankruptcy for a now defunct company. Vince McMahon has never stolen a tape.
For most of the matches filmed, no contracts were ever signed stipulating how much a wrestler would earn if said tape went to sale. Until the mid 80’s, the average wrestler worked on a handshake agreement, which does not hold up in court. The wrestlers were paid to wrestle that specific night or nights, but no legal agreement came up in regards to video sales. In fact, most independent companies still run off of this principal. Here’s an example.
Let’s pretend that I own the Rainbow Sparkle Federation.
(I’m watching The New Day as I type. Work with me here.)
I am the promoter, so I own the copyright to the RSF footage.
Joe Blow is my mid card wrestler.
I have agreed to pay Joe Blow $400 to wrestle for me at Sparklebrawl.
Joe Blow takes his $400 and wrestles the best match of his life.
But next year, I have to fold the RSF. So I sell RSF to Vince McMahon.
Vince McMahon pays me $10,000 for RSF and I hand over the tape library.
Three years from now, Joe Blow finds his face on The Network.
Joe Blow sues Vince McMahon.
The lawsuit is thrown out.
Joe Blow never signed a contract with me, stipulating payment or royalties for that match he did at SparkleBrawl.
Joe Blow on a handshake agreed to wrestle at SparkleBrawl for $400.
I gave him $400.
He took the cash and wrestled as per our verbal agreement.
But he has no say over what I do with the tapes.
I owned the copyright, so if I choose to sell them to Vince McMahon, Vince may do with them as he pleases. He purchased them outright. I never made him sign a contract. End of story.
But some tapes may have stipulations. Prime example being the Worlds Collide tapes. This was a crossover event between AAA, IWC and WCW. While the WWE owns the WCW portion of the show, they still have to contend with AAA, which as of this writing is still active. This means dealing with the Peña family if they want to air the show on The Network.
Another example is with El Santo. Any footage the WWE procures featuring El Santo or El Hijo Del Santo must be paid to the Santo family. Tiger Mask’s matches may belong to Toei Animation while Jushin Thunder Liger’s legendary theme belongs to Sunrise and BanDai Namco. This requires special permissions and contracts as well, holding up the footage even longer.
Last comes a quality check, to make sure that the sound is synching up, disclaimers appear on any tapes involving controversial wrestlers, making sure the new music replaces the old, that cuts and splices sync, make sense but still preserve the show as much as legally possible, making sure that Benoit does appear but isn’t being made out to be the next coming of Cena, and in case any footage cannot be saved, that there is a card on the bottom of the screen, letting viewers know that this footage has been restored to the best of your abilities.
This is also where the popular Collections comes in. If a tape is still in the process of being edited, they can at least reserve random matches and clips here and there for the Collections as proof that yes, they are working on getting this done.
Lastly is the tiring task of uploading the content. This can take hours, sometimes days depending on the size of the video files. There are also schedules to keep. For example, if it’s Royal Rumble season, it makes sense to upload a WWE show based on qualifications for the Rumble. It would not make sense to upload a WCW Thunder episode. If DDP gets a DVD, then it’s perfectly fine to upload a WCW Thunder show he may have been on. Timing the nostalgia is almost as important as airing it at all.
This is just a taste of the work the WWE must go through in order to upload older wrestling tapes to The Network, and with 87 years worth of footage and counting, it looks like they will be at this for years to come.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!