WWE may have gotten mainstream attention from places like ESPN SportsCentre, as well as various news outlets over the summer but they have had to deal with a decline in TV ratings this year too.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter ratings for Raw in July 2015 are down from July 2012, with roughly around 1.24 million fewer people tuning into the WWE’s flagship programme than three years previous.
So should the McMahon’s worry about losing viewers?
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NBC rights deals
As it stands, the WWE has a long-term deal with NBC Universal to show Raw and Smackdown on the USA Network and SyFy respectively.
That’s not about to change, although, poor viewing figures could be harmful when that deal is to renewed in a few years time, especially as the USA Network weren’t happy at how unpopular the last season of Tough Enough turned out to be.
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WWE’s stock fell dramatically when they announced the NBC deal last year due to the rights deal’s value being far below expectations, WWE would find it difficult to negotiate a better deal if the Raw and Smackdown viewing figures don’t improve.
So why are the ratings declining?
Less incentive to watch Live
There are several reasons why the WWE are failing to attract viewers weekly.
For a start, there’s way too much pro-wrestling to keep track of, just in the WWE alone you have to dedicate five hours to Raw and Smackdown and another hour should you want to watch NXT as well.
Imagine if a hit series like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead put on five hours of content per week, every week – those series wouldn’t last.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that since July 2012, when Raw made the switch to a three-hour long programme, viewership is down, it’s too much to commit to every Monday night. To use the Game of Thrones analogy again, imagine if Game of Thrones were three hours a week, it’d lose viewers because fewer people would sit down and watch all three hours.
Now imagine if Game of Thrones was three hours, but you could watch the best 90 minutes, the next day online – that’s another problem Raw has.
There’s far less incentive for a viewer to watch Raw live today, once in a blue moon there’s a big moment you don’t want to miss live but most weeks you can wait until they post the show on Hulu the next day.
And that’s perhaps the biggest issue, the show doesn’t build to an angle or a match you are dying to see, most of the time on Raw it’s throwaway matches and segments just to fill the time.
When Raw was it’s most successful, it was competing with WCW Monday Nitro and WWE would be damned if they lost any viewers to WCW, the fought tooth and nail to stop you from tuning over by giving everyone great characters and good storylines.
Today, the only incentive for me to watch is that these guys and girls can put on a good match and that’s great for wrestling purists not good for attracting casual fans.
The WWE Network
WWE does of course, have an ace up its sleeve in the WWE Network.
The network has over one million subscribers, meaning in theory one million people are playing for PPVs each month, far exceeding what most non-WrestleMania PPVs would attract in terms of buy rates each time.
It also means that WWE has been able to step away from just relying on TV revenue and buyrates and put some focus on the WWE Network being their breadwinner.
With the network doing well, it does perhaps give WWE some wiggle room in the next TV negotiations that WWE may feasibly be able to switch Raw onto the Network live.
Of course, they would take a big hit losing TV rights and advertising money but should the Network subscriptions continue to go up, there’s less reliability on TV.
Streaming is the future
As seen by websites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, streaming services are the next innovation in how we watch.
Cable TV ratings are universally dropping in 2015 with more people opting to watch series online rather than on TV and when you can binge watch a TV series in a day from the comfort of anywhere via tablet and mobile devices, why sit down to watch something on TV?
The WWE’s shift to a streaming service is a good piece of business by the company, less and less people are watching TV and more and more adopting watching their entertainment through streaming methods.
Even better that WWE adopting this network now instead of a few years down the line when investment down the line may be even lower and less profitable.
So should they worry?
It’s clear that WWE doesn’t live and die by its TV ratings like it did during the Monday Night War with WCW but TV ratings do make it harder to attract investors and advertisers.
TV ratings are no longer the barometer of success for the company, it’s obvious a lot of people watch Raw on replays or DVR it rather than watch live.
But of course, it can’t be an excuse for lame booking on TV because then you could lose the interest of people who are subscribed to the Network and lose business, in that respect WWE should care that their ratings are falling and investigate why.
Perhaps WWE TV will get more compelling when Smackdown moves to USA Network next year but at this moment the second show is in a lameduck state.