Don't Panic, Wrestling Fans!
The headlines say it all. 1.88 cable ratings. Lowest rating in 20 years! McMahon has lost it. McMahon is killing his own company. The champion is fat. The booking is crap.
Can we just stop criticizing people? The fact is that we shouldn't panic. Here's the thing: more and more people are watching streams online, whether legally or otherwise. Hulu is a choice people make because Hulu is a shorter, more condensed version of RAW. People are cutting cable out of their lives, for that matter, because it's just too expensive, so why are we sitting here making doomsday prophecies?
In this era, we could have Rock vs. Austin, and maybe it'd draw a little better, but it's rough to get TV ratings in an era where TV just isn't all that important anymore. We could have three attitude eras and all the TnA we wanted to, but if no one is watching TV as a whole, then that's difficult.
Some would make the argument that the NFL is still drawing great ratings, but that's partially because it's hard to find football many other places, especially cable-produced games. Streams of NFL games are rare, and with wrestling, that's just not the case.
Now, yeah, RAW isn't the most interesting thing right now. In fact, I think a change to 2 hours is warranted, or at least make it three hours of compelling television! That being said, you can't blame ONLY creative or ONLY our champion on RAW, Kevin Owens.
As a journalism major, I can confidently tell you that just as newspapers have become a niche thing, TV may well be heading the same way, in fact, because the internet can give you most of the same things. Hell, you can watch cable online now! Twitter ratings aren't exactly the best indicator of a show's performance, so why doesn't Nielsen try and figure out how to measure the internet?
At the end of the day, TV is a media that while it won't die out, it will become something much more minor. Wrestling isn't dead by a long shot, either; crowds would tell you that it's still, for the most part, popular enough. No, it's not Hulk-Hogan-is-God level anymore, or Austin-Rock level for that matter, but to say, for example, that John Cena isn't a pop culture icon would not exactly be fair.
The point I'm trying to make here is that wrestling is pretty alive and well, and maybe it won't experience an old-time CABLE RATINGS THROUGH THE ROOF boom period, but I think wrestling is still alright.
Back when TNA was airing their weekly pay per views, I thought, “$10 a show is too much for a company that’s a distant second place from the WWE.” Fast forward to today, and now Impact Wrestling is on its 6th network. The key word I’m using here is “Network”.
If the WWE were to somehow do so bad that USA drops WWE TV altogether, would the WWE Universe be against having to watch Raw and Smackdown on the WWE Network for $10 a month?? Even if they were to increase it to $20, would you have an issue with this??
My point is, with the WWE Network, I don’t believe ratings matter anymore. I attended Smackdown Live last night, and it looked to be a packed house. People may or may not watch TV as much as we used to, but people also stopped listening to the radio as much as we used to as well. That doesn’t mean musicians should stop making music, and it certainly doesn’t mean the Professional Sports Wrestling Entertainers should stop “fighting” for Leather and Gold props.
I’ve been practicing McMahonisn for 27 years plus. If the WWE were to leave TV, but kept the WWE Network up and running, I think we’d all be okay.
Wrestling is fine. Bad ratings usually generate the "sky is falling" posts. Raw was up against pretty stiff football competition and all they had to offer was a pre-advertised Reigns vs Owens non-title match with PPV implications. Meh.
Triple H coming back was exciting, then Raw forgot to run with it and we haven't seen him since. Advertising Triple H would have been a better way to get some views.
Getting smoked by football makes sense, it's American football. They also got beat by something called "love and hip hop hollywood" which is pretty embarrassing.
Clash of Champions build hasn't been extraordinary as they've been building towards a event featuring almost entirely rematches. I wonder if that has anything to blame for a lack of Raw interest?
Let's get some fresh feuds going on Mondays and get Triple H and Owens together on TV. I'd love to see the two play off each other.
It's still a problem though. I am pretty sure that Vince McMahon, WWE's Board, USA Network's Board and everyone involved in it want it to be the most watched show on television. It's probably every show's goal and sometimes they have to make changes for that to happen.
Raw is capable of getting great numbers. Wrestling as a whole isn't dead. I am sure Americans find professional wrestling to be a part of their culture as well. The 18/32 demographic was brought up around wrestling. Golden Era, NWO, Attitude Era, so you can get them back as fans. I remember that 1000th Episode of Raw getting an enormous rating. Sure it was nostalgia kicking in, but that goes to show that people still want to care for wrestling.
One of the huge problems right now is just the three hour show. It is a problem and they are being stubborn by sticking with it. I predict that in a years time, if nothing changes, SmackDown will surpass Raw in the ratings. Also, Raw hasn't done anything to make people talk about it. They lost their arguably biggest and more accomplished stars.
Maybe it can all change when the Cruiserweights arrive as long as WWE gives them a fair amount of time for the division to build. Back in the 90's, Raw was divided in two parts, well try to give them 1-hour. Maybe people will tune in, maybe they won't, but it's a different way to manage the three hours. It could be less tiresome I believe.
But OP is right. We don't need to panic. I'm sure they will have a plan somewhere down the road. I just hope WWE and USA Network stick together, because I've truly enjoyed their relationship. USA continues to bet on WWE and Wrestling as a whole, and the least we could do is watch the shit out of Suits and Mr. Robot!
What I'm about to state has nothing to do w/the recent decline and this weeks bottom out in the ratings. Pro Wrestling in WWE is seriouly hurting. It is hurting b/c it isn't cool or exciting and it rarely provokes any deep emotions. The programming usually lacks in sound logic, continuity and character development. The overall company directive has moved away from solid storytelling and action in the ring. I know WWE turned in a record breaking quarterly report this year and that is a huge accomplishment but it is no reflection of the pro wrestling (sports entertainment) programming which in large part has been garbage.
WWE is fortunate to have a large enough fans base to float the ship right now. They even have fans who want to follow the product and randomly check in via social media and other various outlets. They attempt to hang their hat on these aspects while pretending the pro wrestling programming is fine.
WWE fans can find out what happened via WWE.com, they can DVR the show, they can watch RAW on the Network. Ratings don't really matter.
There was also Monday Night Football. We all know that football can only be watched live. It's a game, there's tension, there's passion and drama. WWE is a soap opera, so the whole live gig, doesn't really matter. Especially when you force the viewer to sit through 1 hour of ads, 30 minutes of piss breaks and 30 minutes of recaps. Add the bad writing in there. People will continue to follow WWE, but who really wants to watch the train wreck that RAW is?
However I think WWE knows that it doesn't really matter. They have 2 PPVs per month. They know that you'll tune in for the PPVs on the Network. That's what matters now, the Network bussiness. I think it's safe to say that WWE still makes money from tickets, ads, sales and the Network.
However if those ratings continue, USA might force WWE to tone down the 3-hour thing. It's not as watched as before and you know, it's in a prime time spot. I actually hope that USA calls for RAW to go back to 2 hours. Do they even get anything out by having RAW go for 1 extra hour?
I say just go back to two hours, keep the show exciting and seperate RAW and Smackdown for real. I mean, for real. Have its brand do its own thing. By having two somewhat different brands, means that you get almost double chances of new eyes and those new eyes could then also put the other programm as well into their schedule.
Lower ratings won't force WWE to shut its doors down, but they are a symptom of something being wrong. At the end of the day, when your audience melts in half in about a decade - something's rotten. When you go down to the nitty gritty, WWE's main products are TV shows. Without the TV shows, there is no WWE. How many people watch these TV shows is indicative of many other things. And yes, they could always transfer the shows to a smaller Network a-la TNA or even turn the entire thing into a subscription service, but that is horrible for the WWE in so many ways and it's the last thing they want.
Keeping a show alive does not equal success. TNA is alive, some-fucking-how, and the last thing I'd call them is successful. When you have to move your show to a smaller network or God forbid take it off TV entirely and make it all digital, that's called life support. TNA is on life support, desperately trying to recover. Thing is, TNA can do it, because TNA was never that healthy to begin with. TNA is not dealing with major stakeholders, major advertisers and investors. WWE is. If WWE goes to a smaller network and is cornered in that way it's going to produce a domino effect which I'm not sure they'll survive like TNA has.
It's a lot like a really rich person going broke and a middle class person going broke. The middle class guy never had that much money to begin with so while it's a set back, no one depends on him and he probably doesn't depend on no one. But when a rich person goes broke it brings a whole mess of things with him because, low and behold, money trickles into many different ways and once its gone, the base that all this was built on just crumbles. That's a fall the WWE won't take.
It's a numbers game. Less people watch on a weekly basis - less people invest in all of their other ventures (merchandise, subscription service, live events, God knows what else), and it all equals less money.
And not just less money, less of an appeal for sponsors and advertisers. All these people care about is exposure. If WWE can't provide the exposure they take their money someplace else. That's what WWE should be concerned about. If the sponsors and advertisers dash, WWE is threading in TNA's muddy waters. Not to mention that all of these fancy investors are certainly not going to be happy with whatever's going on - it goes against their interest. How are they going to get a return on their investment when the company's audience is shrinking? They'd want to pull out faster than Bieber. And guess what - WWE stops being a good prospect for other investors so the cash stops flowing in - now it just trickles.
So in the end, yes I don't think one single awful rating is something to cry over. Ratings are a metric that fluctuates up and down non-stop. There are so many variables that impact it both positively and negatively, outside of the realm of how good the show was or how chubby Kevin Owens is. Variables that the WWE would pay big league money to know.
That's why looking at singular cases is pointless. We should look for patterns in these things over long periods of time, allowing these metrics to aggregate. From what we're seeing, and this is public information, it's been going downhill every single year. That says something.
The WWE is a corporation. Corporations like to think long term. If this is the current pattern and WWE lost half its audience (if not more) in 10 years, and we know how fast time flies with wrestling, what's going to happen in another 10 years? It's scary to think about and I'm sure it's keeping some people up at night.
The whole scene is changing rapidly. Wrestling is dying off across the board. This is hardly a WWE problem, TNA's going through the same plague. Question here is: is this a wrestling thing, or is it simply that none of the major North American wrestling promotions are doing wrestling right? In other words, is it the genre or the execution?
When you see boxing pretty much die after the McGregor and Diaz fights and the UFC being bought for 4 billion dollars, that makes you think. And while people can go ahead and say that the UFC is not direct competition to WWE - you're right, but I'll tell you what, ever since I started watching UFC as of a few years ago, wrestling's become less and less of an interest. We watch wrestling for the contests, for the drama, for the athleticism. UFC is going in that direction, they're telling stories with their fights, they're learning how to thread the fine line between good storytelling and great action that happens to have the thrill of being real. I'm getting the same thrill from UFC these days that I used to get from wrestling years ago. I'm hyped for certain contests. I ain't hyped for anything going on in wrestling - I don't give a fuck.
You look at the build up for both McGregor vs Diaz fights and you tell me UFC wasn't taking a page of wrestling's book. The promos? The press conference where Conor started flinging bottles and cans at Nate's team? You saw Dana White telling Conor "Conor don't throw those fucking bottles" but inside he was going "Please Conor throw the fucking bottles".
I'm just saying, things are changing and the only one that isn't is pro wrestling. It's sad because pro wrestling is the most versatile and flexible genre out there and it's controlled by people who don't know how to do it right. They can literally get away with anything if they felt like it. If the UFC managed to make MMA, which was this moronic, savage and frankly horrible "thing" into a legit sport and have people breaking limbs on live TV and have advertisers salivate over it, then why the hell can't wrestling get their shit together?
So lets say that the Network stays at $9.99. WWE would need over 20 million subscribers to make up for the TV deals. Include the 1 million they need to break-even and they would need over 22 million subscribers to make the same money they are now(*). And no, WWE would not be able to attract enough advertisers to the Network to offset the TV contract.
*Actually they would need more due to increased service costs (higher demand, more servers and whatever). Since I'm not sure how much more would be needed, I'm only taking into account what their current situation is.
Despite making record revenue last year of $658 million they only brought in $24 million. Losing that $200 million would kill them.
Even if they were able to get 22 million subscribers, attracting new fans would be a big problem. New fans would have to find their Network and be willing to pay for something they are not fans of yet.
There are a ton of reasons why this is happening. It is only live on the East Coast. It is not live anywhere else (in the US at least). It is easy to find a live stream and not have to watch the delayed show nor DVR it. It went up against two NFL games. It is always up against thousands of other channels.
Another big reason is 3 hours. That is causing the creative team to stretch. To drag things out. They have to put guys out there that may not deserve to be on Raw. Put segments that people won't watch because they need to fill 3 hours. Even the good shows feel tired by the end. I only DVR Raw now because sitting through it with all those commercials is too much.
Nielsen does actually track some online viewing but it is tricky of what they will actually count as a view. Only the videos with the same ads as on TV will count as a view for Nielsen. Trying to actually track all online viewership would be incredibly hard and it goes against the point of their tracking. Their tracking is not meant for shows but rather for advertisers. Advertisers pay based off the ratings. So having 500 million people watching a live stream with no ads is something they do not care about.
Ratings matter to WWE. They make a ton of money off of their contract with NBC Universal. That money subsidizes all the things WWE brings to it's fans and pays to it's shareholders. The WWE Network has only gone as far helping to make up for the loss of PPV. It doesn't make Raw or SD irrelevant. DVRs, streams, and Hulu do not pay the bills like NBC Universal.
Remember the embarrassment of the negotiations between WWE, NBC Universal, and the other zero media outlets that wanted WWE programming? Remember how NBC Universal called WWE's bluff and still got their business? WWE made a ton of money off that deal but it will end in the next few years. What then? I don't think Raw will disappear but it could become a lot less profitable for WWE. What about SD? It is now a live show which means it costs more to produce. What value will it have in the future as fewer people watch it when there is the most money to be made? Will it still be worth it to keep it live or does it go back to being the taped Raw recap show we complained about endlessly?
Ratings matter. I'm not jumping off a building just yet but they do matter.
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