With New Digital Network Up and Running, WWE Goes Beyond the Mat at WrestleMania
WWE’s WrestleMania is always one of the biggest and most complex live productions of the year. However, with the return of Hulk Hogan to the WWE ring (as host), the Undertaker’s first ever WrestleMania loss, and the first event simulcast on both on pay-per-view and WWE’s recently launched digital network, the 30th edition of WrestleMania at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on April 6, was a larger undertaking than ever before for the WWE remote-production team and its mobile-facilities provider, NEP.
“In terms of feeds going out and the total shows we did, it was definitely the largest show ever,” says Duncan Leslie, VP of event technical operations, WWE. “[The production] is basically what we do with every show, every week, but it just becomes massive in its deployment at WrestleMania. There are a lot more bells and whistles, to say the least.”
A Three-Way Split Saturday
Of course, WrestleMania XXX was about much more than just the Main Event on Sunday, as WWE provided a record 18 hours of live programming during the week of WrestleMania from the four-day WrestleMania Axxess fan fair (April 3-6) at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Smoothie King Center (Saturday), and a host of other events taking place throughout the Superdome area.
The frantic weekend peaked on Saturday night when the WWE production team was tasked with simultaneously running three independent shows out of three mobile units in three venues: the WWE Network studio show from Axxess, the Hall of Fame preshow, and the ceremony itself.
WWE deployed NEP SS11 to produce its two-hour WWE Network five-camera studio show from Axxess on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, along with a PSSI/Strategic TV hybrid C-band/Ku-band satellite truck. On Saturday night, NEP SS17 served as the home of the Hall of Fame ceremony production, while NEP Red — the A unit of WWE’s primary Black and Red production trucks — was parked across the street at the Superdome compound producing the HOF preshow. In terms of transmission, each show had dedicated muxed feeds running over satellite or fiber.
“We just ran fiber and supported a standalone show out of Red, while SS17 was getting ready to do the HOF show,” says Leslie. “It was a frantic Saturday since it was the first time we ever had three distinct remote feeds simultaneously airing on a network.”
The Main Event
For the main event itself, WWE delivered three feeds to the digital network, four paths dedicated to the conventional PPV distribution, and another for WWE’s international affiliates. In all, Leslie estimates there were 60 muxed feeds going out of the truck over fiber and satellite to support the WWE network, cable, and PPV partners, international clients, and other outlets.
“It’s an enormous show, and it’s very different compared with, say, a Super Bowl, where there are multiple vendors and networks,” says Glen Levine, co-president, NEP U.S. Mobile Units. “In that case, we might have EN1 [four-truck mobile unit] supporting ESPN, and then there’s five other trucks doing international. But, with [WrestleMania], all those trucks and all the programming was specifically for WWE. It’s just a massive show.”
WWE’s Main Event camera complement consisted of 18 Sony HDC-2500s, made up of three jibs, three hard cameras, and 12 handhelds, as well as a handful of POV cameras. In addition, WWE peppered the Superdome with more than 40 camera drops to allow operators to reposition cameras throughout the facility and cover all the action.
“We always like to have a lot of drop and then repo [cameras] around to allow for some flexibility,” says Leslie. “We ran a good 200 miles of fiber to make that all happen.”
As for the in-venue experience, WWE deployed an army of synchronous light systems throughout the Superdome as well as LED panels and displays from NEP Screenworks.
“The LED [technology] gives our fans access to a program or add to our ability to more creatively infuse the talent’s entrances,” says Leslie. “We had proprietary Screenworks LED products, Daktronics, Everbrighten, and X15. We basically took everything out of [Screenworks’] warehouse for that week; they were bone dry.”
The Digital Network Effect
According to WWE, it sold 667,000 subscriptions to the streaming WWE Network in time for WrestleMania to go along with 400,000 PPV buys — totaling more than 1 million. In addition, more than 7 million hours of video content was viewed on the WWE Network during WrestleMania week, April 1-8 (the network streamed a total of six hours of live coverage of WrestleMania 30 on April 6).
“For us, having our own network to feed is a whole new world,” says Mike Grossman, SVP of television operations, WWE. “As a company, it gives us so much more flexibility to provide our fan base with unique programming that we didn’t have the ability to do before we had our own network.”
While WrestleMania marks the apex of the WWE calendar each year, Grossman and company see even bigger things to come for the WWE Network as they continue to build out production operations and create new workflows and programming for the digital network.
“Frankly, the network is like a new toy chest, and there are lots of people that want to play with the toys. So it’s challenging but very exciting,” says Grossman. “Now we have the ability to deliver anything that our creative teams come up with through our network. We can very quickly turn around programming for the network, which makes it challenging for the guys in the field and in postproduction, but it is a great tool to communicate and market to our fans.”