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What's interesting is that prior to 1995, there seemed to be some form of truce, or at least an unspoken agreement that when it came to pay per view both companies would try and share the landscape. WWF had five shows a year in January, August, November, whenever Wrestlemania was and now in June with the 1993 edition of the King Of The Ring as a specialist pay per view.
WCW had expanded themselves, to seven. You might notice that seven is exactly the number of months that WWF weren't running shows on. And as if to confirm the balance, in 1994 they ran the highly entertaining WCW Spring Stampede in April following Wrestlemania in mid March. In 1995, while Mania set for the very beginning of April, Spring Stampede disappeared from the calendar and it was replaced in March by a show called "WCW Uncensored".
In both cases it seemed like the companies were happy with pay per views as part of their wider financial bracket, but knew their limitations. Where the WWF was concerned shows were holding fairly steady in the midst of a declining roster of over talent - a long way ahead of WCW, even in the early record breaking run of Hulk Hogan.
So what changed? In the case of Hogan and WCW it seemed like WCW discovered that the volume didn't matter, and neither did the quality. It's hard to pin-point the beginning of WCW's horrible PPVs (and it certainly would be unfair to point the fingers at Hogan's first show or two), but pay per view quality quickly declined once Hogan had moved on from his feud with Ric Flair and lots of Hogan's cronies from the mid-80s WWF had taken over the undercard.
But there’s a thing about pay per views, and this is something that someone like Dave Meltzer wrote a lot about at the time and writes a lot about now too – which is pay per views don’t necessarily work in the way you might think. If you have a hot product, if you have something that people want to see – the regularity and the cost of these things isn’t *that* important. In the case of WCW, for all of Hogan’s faults, WCW had a product that people wanted to see on pay per view. Hogan vs Flair broke WCW buyrate records, Hogan vs Vader broke revenue records (fewer buys at a higher price) – hell, even Hogan vs The Butcher on top held steady in what must be the worst Starrcade main event in history.
So when WCW decided to move to (almost) monthly pay per views in 1995 the decision largely made sense. The increasing cost of the WCW Uncensored show did very little to stem the tide of interest and buys, it being secondary to Hogan vs Flair is no shame on Vader. The company did have Clash Of The Champions events in the five spare months, but 1995 was a catalyst for them dropping it to two a year, and by 97, none at all.
The motivations for the WWF (who made the announcement of a switch a month later) seemed a little different. While their buyrates were higher than WCW in most cases, WCW’s biggest ever PPV buyrate was still just short of Wrestlemania XI – the WWF’s lowest for a Wrestlemania, the company was clearly sagging. In the wake of the departures of Hogan and Savage, and their inability to replace them, the company was struggling for drawing power. So why increase the shows?
The answer may lie better in the idea of pay per views. There was a little known promotion around at the time called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With very little reach, very little exposure, and a product that would take a good decade to gain mainstream acceptance, the UFC were running shows on pay per view, and they were doing quite well. Estimates suggest the first show did 86,000 buys, the second 300,000. Wrestlemania XI, despite all the hype, did just 340,000 buys.
Even if the company were struggling, while pay per views remained profitable – they were always viable. And even if starting monthly shows like In Your House maybe wasn’t the greatest of idea, the point was less whether there was money for pay per view out there, and more whether the WWF wanted a slice of the action. Because if they didn’t, chances are WCW, the UFC, or maybe even ECW would’ve pounced on the action.
In Your House certainly wasn’t all that comparable to what WCW were doing, mind. WCW were going all out, increasing the price of shows to $27.95 (and over $30 if you bought it on the day) to accommodate the cost of Hulk Hogan. The WWF however went for a budget option. In Your House was positioned as secondary to the company’s major PPV events, cheaper at less than $15 and shorter – at under two hours.
Maybe that was a mistake. If people like Dave Meltzer are correct, if it’s less about the price point and more about the offering, maybe WWF were undercutting themselves. Also, perhaps it sent the wrong message? Perhaps presenting it as a cheaper, shorter event actually told their audience the event was missable. Like WCW or hate them, they presented every pay per view like it was the greatest thing ever, even if it often wasn’t.
And history will show both companies to be absolutely correct. Both exploded partly on the back of monthly pay per views, and even 20 years on, with WCW long gone, pay per views still remain relevant. The WWE may have moved to their network, but are still doing a fair chunk of PPV buys at a much higher price, UFC are still holding firm despite probably oversaturating their market. And Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao proves that if you have a fight people want to see, they'll pay a lot of money to do it.