Updated from 8:22 a.m. to include news that the WWE Network is coming to Apple TV.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The next big thing for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE - Get Report), its investors and the wrestling world in general, is the launch of the WWE Network. Judging by the reaction on social media, the Web, and the company's own research, it may wind up being bigger than Hulk Hogan's 24" biceps.
First announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, the WWE Network is an over-the-top (OTT) service, akin to Netflix (NFLX - Get Report), except purely for wrestling fans. The service, which goes live this morning at 9 a.m., costs $9.99 per month, and includes all of the company's pay-per-views, including WrestleMania, set to be hosted by Hogan. The Network will be available on the WWE app, which already has more than 10 million downloads, according to a company press release.
On the fourth-quarter earnings call, CFO George Barrios noted that the company's OIBDA (operating income before depreciation and amortization) would fluctuate, due to the launch of the Network, as well as the eventual television deal. "For the first quarter of 2014, we expect net income to decline on a year-over-year basis by $15 million to $18 million resulting in net loss of $12 million to $15 million the first quarter," Barrios said on the call. (CMCSA - Get Report) subsidiary NBCUniversal recently had its exclusive negotiating-window expire, with its popular Raw, Smackdown and Main Event shows now up for grabs in the free market, as live content continues to see a bump in rates. WWE recently renewed its deal in the United Kingdom with cable provider BSkyB, of which 21st Century Fox (FOXA) owns a stake. There's been a lot of attention paid to the negotiations with NBCUniversal, as the company is trying to position itself as live content, similar to MLB, NFL, and the NBA, all of which have very lucrative television deals. "There's a very frothy market for live entertainment," Barrios said in an interview with TheStreet last week. "NBCU remains very committed to live entertainment. We talked in the exclusive window, but we couldn't come to a deal that we both felt comfortable with." WWE is free to shop its programming to other content companies, but NBCUniversal has a limited right to match any offer WWE receives.
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