Wednesday Night War: AEW’s UK TV Deal Own Goal

To use the term “own goal” is probably a very British thing to do. It derives from football (soccer for our North American cousins), another way to put it is: shoot yourself in the foot. In the build-up to AEW vs WWE in the Wednesday Night War, the new start up, instead of firing meaningful shots to Stamford, managed to create a PR nightmare. If NXT is counterprogramming, AEW has become counterintuitive.

Okay, a few things need to be cleared up first. There’s a misconception Brits like a good moan (okay, we probably aren’t scared of one) and we get a better deal than Americans when it comes to the cost of home entertainment. It’s true, boxing PPV prices appear ludicrous across the pond compared to the £20 mark we aim for. But people in the UK do pay through the nose for premium content. Aside from the mandatory TV licence (£154.50), to have a full Sky TV package – representative of US cable providers – it costs £840 a year. For full sports coverage you need to add BT at an additional £300.

So, we may sound similar to Ebenezer Scrooge but that doesn’t mean we’re tight with our disposable income. This week when AEW finally released solid details of its UK TV deal with ITV, followed by the subscription package with Fite, the outrage wasn’t purely the specific cost ($4.99 a month or $2.99 per episode of Dynamite), it was a mixture of failed expectation, frustration, and the feeling of being led down the garden path.

Cody, in a now infamous clip, stated the WWE’s UK TV deal sucked compared to AEW’s. That just isn’t the case, we now know. If he means from a corporate standpoint, perhaps it is: Three hours of telly for a princely sum. If he means from a consumer perspective, it’s the worst pro-wrestling deal the UK has ever seen. Even Impact, much forgotten in the big picture across the pond, has a sweet UK set up. One which has enabled them to secure a lucrative secondary market despite all their recent woes.

AEW had invigorated the UK wrestling audience. WWE has become stale, formulaic, its promising and most over talent misused or overlooked by a creative team that works only as an oxymoron. Jon Moxley’s frustrations and subsequent jumping of the ship became the symbolic cure to the current WWE problem. But one thing the UK fans never felt by WWE was cheated.

Sure, it was a major hassle having them locked behind Sky’s paywall. Even this situation was turned into a favourable light when they released the WWE Network. Sky – so easy to play the role of heel, with Rupert Murdoch the only man that can make Vince McMahon babyface in seconds – felt cheated that their multiyear deal, which included exclusive PPV access, would lose its importance.

Sky appeared like the money grabbers, still charging a few pence shy of twenty quid for each PPV when the Network offered them and so much more for half the price. It no doubt led to the divorce of what had been a long partnership. WWE came out of it looking like a better priced product for UK consumers.

Vince McMahon has never made promises to the UK audience he couldn’t keep or lied about a situation.

The same can’t be said for AEW. The heat here has to land on Tony Khan’s doorstep. Cody Rhodes can’t be expected to have read the Ofcom ruling. Had he done so, he’d have realised Khan’s false claims that ITV couldn’t run a live show were a badly delivered lie. Free-to-air channels such as the BBC, Channel 5 and Channel 4 have shown NFL and baseball live and applied local adverts, cut back to the studio or placed holding cards on the screen to comply with the law. A law that doesn’t actually penalise the timings for commercials within a given hour if receiving a foreign broadcast.

Tony Khan

UK fans can accept a disappointing deal (unless it’s Brexit), it doesn’t take too kindly to a lack of transparency leading up to a dishonest announcement.

In response to the backlash, AEW’s defenders have tried to turn the tables and make them the victims. As if the criticism has been too harsh or the analysis too intrusive.

You can’t be the loudest person in the room and not expect people to talk about you. AEW had to make waves but it was always going to cause deeper scrutiny. Fans desperately wanted an alternative, they were bound to place any saviour under the microscope – once bitten, twice shy. When wrestling gods fail you, it’s prudent to question the actions of those offering a road to paradise.

It’s also a two-way street. Bleacher Report – an affiliate of Warner Bros., thus TNT – draw attention to the AEW product at every possible opportunity. That’s been great considering the gaps between PPV’s. But it hasn’t uttered a single word about the UK TV deal. That isn’t balanced reporting. If WWE provides a performer with the wrong type of toilet paper, BR Wrestling is all over them like a bad bearhug. AEW has a bad press day and they are conspicuous by their absence.

The failed UK TV deal – make no mistake, it is a failure – became so vocal because Khan let people down before the first bell had even rung on a Dynamite bout. Had he explained from the start that Fite was the real home of AEW and ITV was aimed at a smaller audience (not their target audience), then Brits wouldn’t have lost their shit. They’d have had a few months to decide if they wanted the upstart bad enough to pay half the cost of the WWE Network for less than two hours of content a week.

If less than two hours a week was worth slightly more than half of a Netflix subscription, or more again when compared to the complete perks of Amazon Prime. Negative fallout makes it an argument of two hours versus thousands of hours. A better managed PR campaign, lead with honesty from the outset, would have sounded more like: get AEW every week for the price of a pint.

Instead, we are left with the former. Negativity rules. The idea of a Thursday Night Dynamite prime time show on ITV4 left in tatters. Access on the ITV Hub scrubbed. Admittedly, neither ever promised but when WWE’s TV deal is derided, it’s fair to expect something very close to those two outcomes.

AEW haven’t just shot one round in their foot, they’ve let off another. The bad PR and loss of faith is one thing, from a business point of view they’ve missed a chance to sky rocket to the big time. WWE views Britain has a valuable market. It has solid support and makes a tidy sum from these shores. I dare say, the UK has helped WWE remain in pop culture. All this, and they never had a terrestrial TV deal. AEW do but have chosen to underutilise the opportunity.

Instead of exploding into the British public’s psyche, it risks being the butt of jokes with its Sunday morning timeslot.

Personally, the initial shock and anger has been replaced with a calmer view of the situation. Is AEW worth $4.99 a month. On many levels, yes. It has already taken two PPV orders from me based on a leap of faith. It just feels like a bigger leap this time. The sense of everyone playing fair, pulling in the same direction, has evaporated. It’s hard to part with a cent when one feels hoodwinked.

I don’t want to join the army of people now saying the only way to go is illegal streaming. If you want to see AEW that much, pay them. They’ve worked hard and deserve it. If you still feel slighted Wednesday night (or Thursday morning) take a rain check. Hopefully by Monday night, we’ll have all calmed down and can enjoy the one-hour ITV highlights package.

 

AEW All Out (2019) – Review

It’s going to be nearly impossible to review AEW All Out without reference to the other company in the room. So I won’t try. There’ll be a lot of WWE comparisons. We’re about to start a Wednesday Night War and this is the final shot across the bow before weekly programming commences.

All Out managed one amazing feat: watching on replay, there are no fights you want to skip. In fact, there’s many that make instant rewatches a must. Problem is, the WWE’s biggest weakness isn’t the standard of wrestling. Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Asuka and Charlotte head a long list of WWE Superstars whose in-ring performance can match anyone in the world. Dubious booking, bad storytelling and wasting talent are the main issues that have allowed the need for a viable rival to Vince McMahon’s juggernaut.

It’s hard to judge those finer elements until the TNT deal starts. The wrestling is top class. The polish around it needs buffing. The comparisons to WWE will start to shift to WCW if AEW isn’t careful. And we all know how that finished. Fans will give All Elite Wrestling time to mature. WWE has added the perfect production to their company after decades of experience. Cody and Khan have a period of grace in the bag.

What will help the credit with fans grow is the high standard of matches. Pound-for-pound, no WWE PPV in recent (maybe living) memory delivers match-after-match. Sometimes the action did make me wince. The bump Darby Allin took in the Cracker Barrel Challenge (dump the shameless sponsoring) was something AEW needs to review. He’s lucky to not have a broken back.

Cracker Barrel

A rundown of results offers little in the way of argument. It feels like Nyla Rose is the chosen one for the Women’s Championship. The Casino Battle Royale was probably the only average match on the card so maybe that’s taken the gloss off her ascension. On the night, it would have been good to see Hikaru Shida overcome Riho. It wasn’t to be and unless AEW goes for a David versus Goliath story, they’ll make the mistake of crowning Rose.

It was a night of top-class tag team action. The Dark Order defeated Best Friends to receive a bye for the upcoming tag tournament. They also revealed a build to the darker elements of their gimmick. It’s a shame WWE’s The Fiend has made that type of storytelling redundant for anyone else now.

SoCal Uncensored beating Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus was the feel-good moment. Already they’ve developed characters and they provided evidence they’ll be fun to watch too.

The Young Bucks and The Lucha Brothers went one more time. Having the AAA Tag Titles on the line meant the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Lucha Bros. did win. Having it as a ladder match meant the dangerous spots were also guaranteed. No one can argue with the lengths they went to, but it was brutal ballet at times. It’s also a question if the unmasking was actually accidental.

Omega and PAC put on a masterclass. The result was one that allows more layered storytelling moving forward. PAC starts his AEW career with a big scalp, looking strong. Omega is over enough – and good enough – to absorb this loss. He does need a few big wins post-Moxley.

Cody once again brought an emotional match to an AEW PPV. But the walk-in was clunky and the supporting cast a dated throwback. It was good to see the seeds of an MJF turn teased but not actioned. Cody is clearly main event talent, the fun we’ll have before he gets there makes the wait bearable.

The main event was a 50/50 booking. The choice was simple: make a star of Hangman Page overnight or use the name power of Chris Jericho heading into the Wednesday Night War. They both left everything in the ring and to be harsh, by the end, it was clear Page wasn’t at the elite level yet. He was drained and lacked energy, or the best seller on the planet and wants to make sure Ziggler never gets offered a spot in AEW.

It could be a blessing for Page. Now there’s a whole story to tell how he fell short. AEW should go for the long build here and have him struggle back to the top of the card during the next couple of years.

The blooded Jericho was probably a little unnecessary, dampened by the sight of referee Aubrey Edwards passing him the blade. A quick note on her performance, great that AEW is the first to place a female official in a World Championship match (talk about a revolution) but the ref should never be the show. Her theatrics at responding to every single blow is distracting. She needs to tone it down.

Jericho delivering the Judas Effect had the right feel to close out the show. He was the first Undisputed Champion. That moniker can now be recycled here in AEW as the first Champion. It’s not only deserved on his name alone. He still commands attention with his presence. His ringwork is still top drawer. With every occasion, he builds a stronger case for the claim to be the Greatest of All Time. It’s fitting his crowning moment came with the greatest wrestling commentator Jim Ross calling the action.

Chris Jericho First AEW Champion
Thank you, Jericho.

AEW is here, wrestling fans have a choice again.

9/10

Love Island 2019 – Review

At the start of June, I got a WhatsApp from Mick Tavish: Are you on love island??!! It’s great. My simple response was: Nah.

He wasn’t about to let that drop: A younger impulse

👏

would’ve thrived there. Lighten up and get on it. No more big brother this is next best thing.

Mick tried pulling on the Impulse heartstring, even dragging up the hand rub, but it was the final message that had the desired effect. Mick knows I’m a Big Brother whore. I can’t believe it hasn’t been picked up by another channel or Netflix. There’s a Marcus Bentley sized hole in my reality TV show life.

So, I popped on episode 1 on ITV Hub. After twenty minutes I almost turned it off. It’s bad telly. But something kept me watching. A strange curiosity, or just a need to find something that can be Big Brother Lite.

It was probably the Lucie situation that pulled me in. Like Big Brother, the attraction with reality TV shows is monitoring your own response to people’s contrasting opinions. The overbearing controlling Joe was embroiled in a love triangle with boxer Tommy Fury. We had good guys and bad guys and over two months the roles would change…

The contestants are playing for three things: £50k, true love, and the grand prize – fifteen minutes of fame. The last of these has people declare 100% commitment then decide to stay in the villa when their soul mate is ejected, to find love again a few days later. These young ‘uns prefer love triangles and love hexagons before anything resembling honesty and loyalty.

When all this falsity is hiding in plain sight, it’s ironic the public go for conspiracy theories that Molly-Mae isn’t genuine. If you’re looking for evidence of forced or fake behaviour, there are easier places it exists on the show. For the record, I thought Molly-Mae was being sincere with Tommy. It took the idea of losing him to make her realise she her feelings. Once she set her stall out, love blossomed.

Just as the show allows you to view opinions it also shows how easy it is to play Chinese whispers. Anna and Amber were unable to relay the words used in arguments accurately. Anna couldn’t even deliver the tone and body language she saw without putting spin on it that would leave a politician proud. They weren’t the only offenders. Most incidents were relayed after passing through that person’s individual filter. Makes one wonder how many problems in real life are caused by unreliable narrators…

This year had its characters. Amy was cray-cray. After a week it was clear why at 26, she’d never had a boyfriend. She’s likely to explode at the person in front of her in a shopping market queue and declare the friendship over. “How could you buy Frosties, I’ve been stood here thinking you’d be Crunchy Nut. The way you said ‘hi’ and passed the divider made me think we could be best friends. Now you’re asking for cashback and scrimping on bags for life. It’s over. I have to leave now before we can’t shop together again in the future.” Mad as a hatter. And walks like and old lady too.

Amber is a truly gorgeous person to look at. But. Her idea of being fiery is a different way of saying she’s a bitch. Sure, she was shat on by Michael but she didn’t come out of the fallout with any credit. Even her love speech in the final episode was a “me-me-me” moment. When she grows up, she might be an all right person. Her winning also proves that the British public are idiots when it comes to voting on reality TV shows.

Quick mention to Maura, too. She’s bringing trashy into 2019 kicking and screaming. Every time she says “fanny flutters”, cocks around the country shrivel up.

The true star of the show [resists urge to make Ellie-Belly joke] is Tommy Fury. When I say lovable idiot, I mean it in an endearing way. He’s a lovely young man with a heart of gold. He’s not actually an idiot, he just has a childlike innocence. There’s nothing false about Tommy. The Fury family have another A-lister amongst their midst.

Tommy Fury

The show proves how superficial and fleeting looks are. Nine out of ten contestants are super-hot. After a few days, some of them appear ugly. Personality is the key to successful relationships and those with bad ones can’t mask it with a smile for long. Oh, cash can help make a relationship work too (ask people like Bernie Ecclestone) so perhaps that £50k keeps façades up for longer than usual.

The camera shots showing the start of a party looked like an advert for a cheap catalogue, reminding us this was all so, so very fake. But it did manage to replace the Marcus Bentley sized-hole I my life with the witty Iain Stirling.

What Love Island lacks is a true gameplayer. Going back to Big Brother, that eventually became a gameshow. The social experiment died as people wanted fame. Love Island started as a gameshow. There’s a cash prize. Love is just a theme. It needs a Nasty Nick style couple that seeks to tear apart successful partnerships so there are no couples left by the final. In a show where it’s 90% false, someone exploiting this would be golden. Maybe next year?

If in the meantime you’re having withdrawal symptoms, I suggest you seek help from a professional . . . ballroom dancer.

7/10

Brightburn – Review

Let me get this out of the way before we start: I think Superman is a wet fart. He’s all powerful, like a god so should never actually struggle. He’s an annoying Goody Two-Shoes. I see him as a snowflake’s wet dream. But stripping away the poor execution, the dude has a cool origin story. There’s solid potential.

Why all this talk of Superman for a horror movie review? I hear you ask. It’s because the creators of Brightburn must also feel the same way about Supes. Sure, the premise is good, let’s just give it some beef. This leads to a cooler version of the Kents. Elizabeth Banks (fitter than any version of Martha Kent) plays the surrogate mother to the crash-landed alien. Brandon Breyer is our new Clark Kent, played by a Jackson A. Dunn you wouldn’t trust watering your plants.

He’s a creepy little shit, and his step-dad twigs on which leads to trouble in the family home. Not as much trouble as what’s heading the way of anyone who Bad Breyer takes a dislike to. His landing pod keeps attempting to make contact with him, sending spooky alien messages while he’s sleeping. Unlike the Krytonians, the planet Brandon’s from wants world domination.

Full props to the movie makers for producing this on such a tight budget. There is a fair amount of CGI but it never looks poor. The horror won’t have you jumping or squirming, it’s a little by-the-numbers but it’s a good alternative take on a superhero trope.

Director David Yarovesky is up next for DC, presumably making them reluctant to start lawsuits for a blatent ripoff of their leading property.

It’s worth checking out, if only because it serves as proof kids become a pain in the arse once they hit puberty.

7/10

Big Brother 2018 Review

It’s with sadness Big Brother will finally leave UK screens. At least, that looks to be the case but it feels too big to be left on the TV scrapheap for long. For eighteen years it has been the original and best reality TV show. The last season started with a nod to the past but perhaps also went some way to explaining why it lacks a definite future.

Over the years, it’s been no secret this writer wanted to get into the famous house at Elstree Studios but this series finally turned me off the idea. It’s often the case the most entertaining housemates leave too early. In this year’s show, if we reversed the timeline of evictions, it would have made compelling viewing to the end.

Instead, the final season limped like a lame dog during the last fortnight. Characters (because that’s what housemates become) either showed their true colours (Zoe) or grated beyond belief (the rest of the finalists).

Could I have coped in a house that was unclean, where shoes rested on pillows, the floor looked like a vacuum cleaner had been emptied on it, and the only activity was people smoking?

Nope. I’d have gone full aggro-bellend to pass the time.

Which could explain why Lewis F was so quick to start a pointless argument. He overstepped the mark with Kay, she clearly asked to stop the chat, but Lewis F needs to peck at people’s heads as much as Tomasz needs to lounge around like a camp Jabba the Hutt.

Lewis F showed his softer side, helping Cameron come out on national television. The cynic will wonder if that was a plot by the eventual winner. His disingenuous reactions to being scared in tasks prove he has a taste for the theatrics.

The last Channel 5 Big Brother did feel retro. Isaac, Kenaley and Akeem all felt like legitimate additions to Big Brother folk law, along with Lewis F, Kay and the underappreciated Lewis G.

Cian felt like a bit of a cheap imposter and Sian proves that good looks can get a person far in the absence of a personality.

It was sad to see Emma Willis and Rylan bid farewell to a show they obviously care about. Willis has been a worthy successor to Davina’s mantel (we’ll forget the Brian Downing attempt to host the show) and hopefully retains her spot should the show be revived.

I can’t say I’ve watched every season like a superfan. Some years I haven’t even been in the country during the summer. But a quick look at former winners shows enough names still jump out as recognisable even now.

Big Brother has been more than just a reality TV show, it has been a way to chronicle popular culture over the last two decades.