(CBS Baltimore/CBS Local) -- In a surprising move, Ring of Honor is upping the ante against its competitors by streaming their television tapings live to paid subscribers of its over-the-top digital service. The move removes the sometimes months-long delay between the date the show was taped and when it was actually broadcast to its vast roster of affiliates stations and then ultimately made available online.
The decision is the first of its kind among major wrestling promotions in the United States and is a welcome benefit for HonorClub subscribers. Currently, WWE streams archived episodes of RAW and SmackDown on their WWE Network, but cannot stream them live due to television rights agreements with broadcast partners. Despite the urging of many fans and declining viewership on traditional outlets, that is unlikely to change until streaming becomes a financially viable option for the wrestling giant which recently inked a pair of lucrative rights agreements for its programming that are worth well in excess of a billion dollars domestically.
ROH has no such barrier, as the weekly show is broadcast on many of the nearly 200 local stations owned by its parent company, many of which are CBS affiliates.
The first test of the new plan will come Saturday night, when the promotion returns to the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, where it will be taping a number of shows. At least six of matches will be streamed to HonorClub members beginning at 8 p.m. eastern. Four matches are being taped before the show goes live online and are being held back for a future television broadcast, including a title clash between Women of Honor World Champion Kelly Klein and Karissa Rivera.
Meanwhile, it's unclear what streaming options will be made available for fans by well-funded upstart All-Elite Wrestling when it begins broadcasting live weekly shows in October on a national cable network. However, viewership of recent shows on the digital B/R Live platform has reportedly exceeded expectations.
For ROH, the loosening of streaming restrictions also has the potential to attract new audiences at a time when the 17-year-old promotion continues searching for a new identity. Top stars Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks, along with the occasional appearance by Kenny Omega, helped shoot the company to one of the hottest wrestling properties on the planet and spurred a near instant sellout of a show at Madison Square Garden with New Japan Pro Wrestling earlier this year. They have since departed to found AEW. Although the group didn't appear on the show, they were still on the roster when it was announced and many fans purchased tickets with the expectation they would be on the card.
The good news for ROH is that it has an uncanny track record of producing some of the most recognizable names in wrestling. For years it has been one of the final stepping stones for talents en route to super-stardom. Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Adam Cole and countless others have all cut their teeth in an ROH ring. Executives and even those in the locker room have long prided themselves on the "next man up" mentality. The question now is who the next wrestler to step into the bright spotlight will be.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.
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