Earlier this afternoon, my Grandmother called me to ask me if I could help her with her VCR/DVD combo. Yes, you heard me right. I said VCR/DVD combo in the year 2022.. She was having issues getting back to her cable television after watching a VHS tape from 1989. I merely clicked the “input” button on her remote back to HDMI 1 and all was right in the world again.
As I fixed the issue, I could not help but laugh at the dated technology. It then made me think that here soon, televisions will be dated technology. In fact, they are already on the decline. Over the past five years, television sales have plateaued. The reason for that is because the way the average person consumes their content has changed significantly.
A few years ago, we officially entered the “Streaming Era” with products like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, HBO Max and of course, the WWE Network. We utilize this not just on our televisions, but on our smart phones and tablets. We now live in the era of instant gratification whereby we want to consume our content on our terms. Just DVR’ing Monday Night RAW and Smackdown is no longer good enough. Sometimes we don’t have time to watch 3 hours worth of content, so we login to Hulu to watch the edited version of RAW that provides all of the necessary content we must see and not the filler content.
Vince Russo and prior wrestling traditionalists would disagree, but the truth is, ratings just don’t matter that much anymore when it comes to generating revenue. Four years ago, the WWE inked a $1B dollar deal with Fox over the course of five years for Smackdown Live to appear on Fox’s flagship channel. I think it’s safe to say, especially at that time, that given Smackdown’s ratings and the weekly product that was being delivered, was not worth that kind of money. But because times are changing and the way we consume our content has changed, any kind of content (especially sports related) has an inflated value as major networks need to provide this product to its viewers.
Another recent example is last year’s sale of the WWE Network to NBC Universal which is now displayed on NBC’s own streaming service, Peacock. Again, the WWE sold the rights to air the WWE Network for $1B dollars over the course of five years to NBC Universal. This is more or less a licensing deal that will be mutually beneficial to both parties. Peacock has over 22M subscribers while the WWE Network had 1.6M paid subscribers at the time. This will grow to be an excellent partnership and will likely be renewed after the five years is up.
WWE’s Youtube subscriber amount is up to 86.5M unique subscribers. They are in the Top 1% of channels with the most subscribers, and since its inception has received roughly 70 billion views on all of the content it offers. The organization is drawing in millions upon millions of revenue monthly from YouTube because of the amount of views they receive from their videos posted. While the revenue gained is certainly great, the bigger picture here proves that its 86.5M users are interested in short clips of content than three hours of content like you’d see on Monday nights.
While the WWE’s viewership on television is declining, they are certainly not losing “viewership.” Cable Television is soon becoming a thing of the past. Wrestling content lasting a few hours a night is just not as instantly gratifying as a quick video on Youtube or even 30 minute documentaries you’ll find on the WWE Network. The WWE audience as well as the rest of the world has simply changed how we consume our content. We are the “Instant Gratification” era. You simply cannot tell me that an organization with 86.5M followers on Youtube is losing fans. This is not even accounting for their Facebook and Instagram viewership content.
Simply put, Vince McMahon is a genius that thinks into the future, gambles on it, and more often than not wins out. Insert XFL and WBF jokes here. He took a huge gamble with the WWE Network and has essentially licensed out the distribution over the next five years and will earn a cool $1B for it. For years, Vince has bought up content from various wrestling promotions that he can now put on the network or even on YouTube to drive higher numbers which will ultimately add to the bottom line revenue. The way he has conducted business to attain such mass amounts of content was nothing short of a visionary at work.
To all the wrestling purists out there, this is no longer 1996-2000. We no longer live in a “ratings war” as much as the “Demo God” Chris Jericho would like to tell you that Wednesday nights used to be. Like I said, television networks are doing anything they can for sports based content to add to their portfolio. Ratings just aren’t as important as they used to be, otherwise both NXT and AEW would cease to exist with their less than stellar performances every week.
The WWE is seeing record earnings “year over year” and they are not even touring like they usually would due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The reason they are more successful than ever is because Vince McMahon has seen far enough into the future to know how to adapt his product and make it more marketable than ever. By not focusing as much on television ratings, and expanding his reach through streaming services. For being called an “old man who is out of touch,” he certainly seems find new and innovative ways to monetize his product.