With more families deciding to ‘cut the cord’, could moving all programming online help or hinder the WWE. Let’s take a look…
In Case You Didn’t Know
WWE’s ratings have been dropping exponentially. They are still drawing in, on average, around three million viewers every episode, however, that figure has been dropping year-after-year. Conversely, WWE aren’t the only ones suffering. Across the board it seems like more people are ditching the traditional old media, and switching to new online forms, like Hulu and Netflix. And WWE seem to have taken notice. With their (relatively) new ‘over-the-top’ network, the WWE Network.
Now, there seems to be more talk about the company switching everything online, including their flagship show RAW. During a recent call with investors, George Barrios, Chief Strategy & Financial Officer, mentioned that WWE have been thinking about the move for years:
“Vince [McMahon] has said it many times. Five, six or seven years ago we thought it was really important to make sure we staked out the social digital landscape as well as direct to consumer. We’ve done that, so now we have options. Do I think a digital player will become more realistic to step up in the level of rights fees we’ve seen from traditional players? I think eventually. I couldn’t tell you whether that’s tomorrow or five years from now, but I think eventually. Certainly over the last two years we’ve seen a steady progression. From our end, the reason we’ve invested so much in having a position on these platforms is to take advantage of that eventuality. That’s a long-winded way of saying ‘Could we see that happening? Yes, absolutely.’”
Moreover, according to an analyst at the investment firm BITG, WWE could see an increase in revenue if they switch their programming to an online platform, such as Twitter or Facebook:
“We believe WWE is being significantly underpaid in its current Raw/SmackDown deal. Ross estimates that USA Network is presently paying $140 million a year for its WWE broadcast rights and speculates that a new deal with Facebook or other potential tech suitors could fetch $400 million or more.”
The pro-wrestling juggernaut is currently locked in a deal with the USA Network until 2019. However, the company would be silly not to look around at other options for when their deal expires. Furthermore, Facebook and “other potential tech suitors” seems to be a lucrative route. What is more, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon all seem to be experimenting with live sports streaming. So now would be the the perfect time to capitalise on the trend… well, yes and no.
Let’s take a look at some pros and cons of WWE going exclusively online…
WWE Online Pros
As mentioned above, more and more viewers of traditional media are switching towards the more relevant types of media outlets, like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc. Moving all their programming online means that they no longer have to keep in mind the lost viewers ‘cutting the cord’. In fact, they can then turn their attention at getting those viewers back. And being purely online will help that massively. As well as this, WWE making the move to online would only entice more potential viewers as a whole. With their massive global following (38M on Facebook alone) the company would be broadcasting the shows to millions of viewers, moreover, viewers with an interest in watching RAW or SmackDown.
Additionally, WWE could be more profitable if they made the switch. As mentioned above, “Facebook or other potential tech suitors could fetch $400 million or more”. Making the deal a game changer in terms of potential revenue. Likewise, making WWE programming exclusively online could also see an increase in following. Now I know I just mentioned viewers, and to some degree I include that term into ‘following’. However, what I also mean by following is literal follows, on Twitter and Facebook. We all know WWE love to show off their large audience on social media, and the move would certainly increase their likes, shares and engagement (and then some!).
Finally, a move to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, or another online service could see the end of that god-awful third hour. WWE could easily negotiate a contract that fits them in for two, rather than three, hours of online entertainment. And that would help them no end.
WWE Online Cons
Hopefully I don’t confuse you when I tell you the first con, which is, less viewers. Yes, I know I just told you that going online would help viewership, however, it could go the other way. Changing the way people want to watch is tough. Moreover, the likelihood of switching online will most likely result in less viewers (to begin with). The company have been on TV for decades, and suddenly disappearing from TV will result in a lot of lost viewers, especially the ‘casual fans’. With a tougher to find product, will fans go out their way to watch?
Maybe I’m over thinking, but would going online hinder WWE’s product? We saw what a loss in competition does for the product, and if they were just online, competing against fewer shows, I can definitely imagine the product going downhill. With less shows to compete with live, complacency may kick in. We all saw what happened when the Monday Night Wars saw it’s conclusion, and following that the shows have decreased in entertainment massively. No competition or alternative makes WWE lazy. I mean, they’re ‘the only game in town’, right?
One final con is that WWE have already (sort of) made the switch to online programming, and it’s not doing all that well. Look no further than the WWE Network. The company’s first big move into the online video market; dipping their toe into the online streaming world. And at the moment, it hasn’t really paid off. For a company with an online following of 38M on Facebook, 9M on Twitter, and just over 17M on YouTube (64M reach in total), 1.63M Network subscribers doesn’t seem like a lot. And a fair amount of those subscribers are on free trials.
The underlying point I’m trying to make is that their recent ‘online project’ is currently failing. They seem to be struggling to get more subscribers, and I know the RAW’s and Smackdown’s would free online to watch, however, if their recent Network venture is anything to go by, moving everything online could be a massive mistake.
Special thanks to CBS for the George Barrios quote.