So I’m just minding my own business on a random Tuesday morning when I look at my phone and see not just one, but two HUGE stories regarding the WWE: (1) WWE RAW is moving to Netflix and (2) The Rock is joining TKO’s Board of Directors. Holy cow, and both have significant ramifications particularly the Netflix deal. The best part about the Netflix deal is that is shall provide CERTAINTY to the pro wrestling business, as everyone was waiting on “pins and needles” to see which wrestling promotion would end up on Warner Bros. Discover for the future.
Let’s discuss the Netflix story, first…
Effective early January 2025 (keep in mind that RAW’s current deal expires through September 2024, might it be briefly extended?), WWE RAW will air exclusively on the Netflix streaming service for the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Latin America. Within the press release, there was zero mention of “Monday Night” or if it were to stream live. Nothing about whether the show remains 3 hours or not, either. We’ll find out the fine details in the future. Also, nothing indicating, yet, that it would be a live streaming show. Netflix has dabbled there, but still has some reluctance as their viewing culture is more for binge watching rather than something that is a live event. They are just now dabbling in episodic television instead of releasing everything at once.
According to Netflix’s 10-Q Report for the 3rd Quarter, Netflix has about 77 million North American subscribers, 83 million in Europe/Middle East/Africa, and about 43 million in Latin America. If you haven’t paid attention in the “Streaming Wars”, Netflix has pulled away as being one of the more profitable steaming services whereas MAX, Disney+, Peacock, and Paramount+ are all reportedly losing money. Thus, Netflix has firmly planted its roots into the ground and is here to stay. That’s a massive user base and if my prediction of other streaming services closing comes true (they are already selling content to Netflix again), then Netflix will be really here to stay.
My question on RAW is this, besides if it will be a live show or on Mondays… With it being on Netflix, will it be COMMERCIAL FREE? After all, that’s the #1 complaint with watching RAW for 3 hours. It’s not the pain of watching a show for that long, it’s the constant interruptions of commercials. If RAW on Netflix can become a commercial-free show, I’d watch it regularly on Netflix with no problems. Condense it down to 2 hours, I’m very much for it. Yeah, I figure they’ll have light commercials there, much like Amazon Prime does for their NFL broadcasts, but what you see on USA Network for RAW is embarrassing. 10 minutes of show, then 5 minutes of commercials (not a fact, but what it feels like to me).
And how much is this deal for the WWE? They are publicly traded as TKO, so thus we should hear that number stated somehow. The previous RAW deal with USA Network was around 5 years, $1 billion or about $200 million per year. The deal that WWE signed with USA Network for Smackdown was 5 years, $1.4 billion. We know for a FACT that WWE was negotiating with Warner Bros. Discovery and maybe other networks were involved as well. Could the WWE have obtained a significantly large deal with Netflix? We’ll just have to wait and see the financials of this deal.
But here is the REAL STORY behind the “WWE signs with Netflix” story. Now, we have clarity in the wrestling business. With WWE signed with Netflix for RAW and of course, NXT is on CW Network while Smackdown is on USA Network… That means All Elite Wrestling (AEW) no longer has the possibility of being pushed off of Warner Bros. Discovery. In fact, AEW just returned to a position of strength because RAW going to a streaming service is a THREAT to Cable/Satellite television. If WWE succeeds on Netflix, others shall follow. Thus, there is a “sense of urgency” by Warner Bros. Discovery to keep live sporting content off of streaming because that’s the true last bastion of hope for Cable/Satellite channels to succeed. Streaming services destroyed their syndication money years ago, and if they can take their live sporting content, that’s a huge nail in their coffins.
And as I was alluding to in my column last week, Monday Nights are “holy ground” for pro wrestling content. That’s the habit of most wrestling fans and if this Netflix deal takes WWE RAW remotely away from this Monday habit, I’d swoop in if I were AEW or TNA wrestling. AEW has a struggling Collision show on Saturday Nights that would work better if on Mondays. Many wrestling fans would appreciate TNA if it were on their wrestling viewing night of Monday, too. If I were both AEW and TNA, I’d watch this deal closely and how RAW content will be distributed.
Hell, even if WWE RAW was streaming on Netflix, I’d push to move my shows to Monday Nights anyway. Fans are multi-tasking these days, and I could easily see a situation where they watch RAW on Netflix via their smartphones and then watching AEW/TNA on their Cable/Satellite hooked up televisions. WWE just made a move away from traditional TV, so thus another promotion should pounce on the remaining opportunities that exist there. I’ve seen many bars and restaurants struggle to air steaming content versus what is easily obtainable on Cable/Satellite.
But again, WWE moving to Netflix creates clarity for AEW and their potential Warner Bros. Discovery re-signing and also gives AEW much needed leverage against WBD. I guarantee that WBD used their WWE negotiations as leverage against them, so now it’s revenge time for AEW to get a better deal. Revenge is a dish best served cold, though Warner Bros. Discovery has their eyes on a new NBA deal and possibly acquiring Paramount Global.
The other big news of the day is The Rock joining TKO’s Board of Directors… Thus, we now have 3 WWE based directors on that board with Rock, Vince McMahon, and Nick Khan. Each of them will have say on not only how WWE content is being presented, but UFC as well. Ouch… Hey Dana White, why aren’t you on that board? Literally, WWE could have 3 votes on that board out of 13 (assuming they are being added, not replacing prior 11 members) that could sway TKO to favor WWE. Now granted, TKO has Endeavor members on the board, too, and their voting majority and shareholder majority could smash those pro-WWE interests at any time.
BUT, what is great about the Rock joining TKO is that it marries him, again, to the WWE. WWE will have more access to him and maybe with Rock splitting time more for his business interests with UFL and now TKO, he’ll reduce his acting gigs especially as the movie theater business continues to decline. Thus, the Rock has a serious financial interest in making his position at TKO stronger by appearing on WWE (and UFC, if needed) more often. Win for WWE, but of course, he’s a pro-WWE voice on that board, so that’s the biggest win for WWE.
As part of this deal, the Rock won the copyright for his wrestling gimmick “The Rock”. Before, anytime he used it, the WWE got a piece of the financial action because they owned the copyright. Now, if Dwayne Johnson advertises himself as “The Rock”, he needs not to obtain the WWE’s permission or give WWE executive producer rights. This is important because the Rock can now merchandise and license his own stuff as “The Rock” to make extra bucks on his part, if he wishes, and now TKO/WWE will likely have to pay Dwayne Johnson fees to use his newly owned copyright (unless that is waived while he is a TKO board member and they just pay him sales revenue).
Big win for the Rock today and possibly a big win for the WWE by boldly trying a new venture in Netflix, but also a big win for AEW to provide clarity on their future television deal.
It’s a GREAT news day for Pro Wrestling, for sure! Especially if WWE RAW on Netflix can be 2 hours long with no commercials. I’ll be a proud viewer of that show, if so.
Oh, and just as I was about to post this column… Here’s another angle: With the RAW television deal completed, what does Vince McMahon do with his time next? Hopefully, Endeavor keeps him busy with corporate responsibilities and away from micro-managing WWE’s daily operations. We’ll see…
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