More than three years after World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE) launched its direct-to-consumer channel, the Network has both succeeded and disappointed.

The streaming service, which averaged more than 1.63 million average paid subscribers during the second quarter of 2017, has ended the company's reliance on pay-per-view (PPV) revenue. That's a positive because while network subscribers can cancel at will, they offer more predictable revenue than the monthly PPVs did.

But that was only one goal WWE had for its streaming network. The company also predicted it would attract between 2 million and 4 million subscribers globally, a level it has clearly not reached. Even hitting the low end of that range may turn out to be a challenge for the company, but a new deal may make that viewership target more achievable.

What's WWE doing?

The company has partnered with Chinese video streaming website PPTV to bring WWE Network to China, where the service will launch August 18. It will include all of the company's special events, beginning with the upcoming SummerSlam.

PPTV customers will be able to watch WWE Network through PPTV's app as well as on, and, according to a WWE press release. Select content, including SummerSlam, will be simulcast in Mandarin.

"PPTV is a tremendous partner and has been key in helping us engage with WWE fans in China and further establishing our brand in this important market," said Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson.  "With this launch, WWE Network is now available in every market, reaching more than 180 countries around the world, delivering all our premium live events and an archive of action-packed, family friendly entertainment that has thrilled WWE audiences for years."

A small step

Subscription-based streaming services haven't caught on with mainstream Chinese audiences, as is also the case in many other countries where WWE offers the network. So WWE is essentially laying the groundwork for the longer-term growth of its network. 

While it seems likely that global consumer acceptance of such services will grow, it may take years, or it may take decades. WWE is playing a long game and putting itself in an early-mover position, so that when subscription-based streaming networks catch on internationally, it's ready to capitalize.

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Daniel Kline owns shares of World Wrestling Entertainment.

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