Why WWE over-saturating its product is not best for business
As someone who has watched wrestling for over 25 years now, I find I still cannot get enough of it. I love watching it at any opportunity and I normally find myself watching documentaries, replaying old shows, or just watching clips on YouTube when the opportunity arises. But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing, and that seems to be an issue with the largest company in the wrestling industry today, WWE.
At the recent announcement of the rebirth of the XFL, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon said, “The intent is to make it a much faster game. Sitting and watching a three, three-and-a-half hour game is laborious sometimes. Sometimes it’s not, depending on the quality of the play, but we intend to have a much faster game."
"We’re going to try to get to two hours, that’s our goal. That’s an experience I think that most people would enjoy and doesn’t take up a lot of their time.” This stood out to me as an odd thing to say given WWE's flagship show Raw was expanded to three hours in July 2012 and has seen the audience drop from an average of over three million in 2011 to just over two million by the end of 2017.
Measure that against WWE's peak audience of just under six million in the year 2000 and you would start to question why McMahon would say this, given that this is essentially him saying Raw's third hour is too much.
Ever since the launch of the WWE Network in February 2014, we have seen the amount of WWE programming available to fans increase to levels I doubt many fans and industry insiders could have ever dreamed of. While it's great that there is so much content now at our disposal, it also leaves fans with a difficult choice; spend countless hours watching WWE only, or sacrifice elements of that to watch additional companies.
There's no real right or wrong answer to that dilemma, but if you are someone wanting to expand their knowledge of the wrestling industry as a whole, it can mean making a choice to sacrificing elements of your personal life to accommodate your desire and willingness to learn more.
And in a world where viewing habits have changed drastically, it tends to see many choosing just to dedicate themselves to only WWE's product, mainly because it is the most easily accessible.
The current line up of WWE's core in-ring programming is quite staggering. On a weekly basis, we have a three-hour live episode of Raw every Monday, a live two-hour episode of Smackdown on Tuesdays, followed by an hour of 205 Live, while Wednesday sees an hour of NXT.
This sees an already staggering seven hours of core programming and does not include the weekly roundup shows and Main Event, which are shown in various different territories. Add in Pay Per Views, special events like NXT TakeOver, the Cruiserweight Classic, the United Kingdom tournament, and the Mae Young Classic, and suddenly you can feel like you are swamped and it's easy to understand why fans are just willing to pass on certain shows because they simply don't have the time to watch them.
Recently we saw the beginning of the Mixed Match Challenge, a tournament in which male and female WWE Superstars are paired up and compete in matches to win a donation of $100,000 to a charity of their choice.
The show itself is broadcast through the Facebook Watch platform and saw it's viewership peak at 135,600 live viewers during its premiere episode. By its third week, the viewership of the show peaked at 62,400 live viewers, which sees a staggering drop of around 54%.
I suspect the reason for this is last weekend saw NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia and the Royal Rumble take place, which combined at around seven hours of additional viewing, and that doesn't even include the pre-show. It seems more likely that people just don't want to give up more of their time to watch more content in an already overcrowded week of shows.
What I feel is a major turn off for fans is the quality of the WWE product itself. With the extension of Raw to three hours, Smackdown, Main Event, and 205 Live, plus an average of sixteen pay per views a year, the writing team is stretched beyond belief and storylines are often suffering in quality.
Matches are often being repeated on a weekly basis and see talent face off so frequently that when a big match between the talent is built for a pay per view it feels meaningless, especially when we also see these same matches taking place again the night after a pay per view event.
Not only that but you tend to find Raw will often be filled with recaps of what you already saw earlier in the show, giving fans less reason to watch the whole show because you pretty much know you can tune in to that last hour and practically catch up on all the shows key developments.
WWE is successfully able to provide quality content, with the NXT brand being the true standout of WWE programming on a weekly basis. NXT storylines are played out over a number of weeks, building feuds into their TakeOver shows, which take place once every three months on average. While NXT is only one hour per week for it shows the quality of the product is often on a different level to the rest of WWE's content.
If the company can get it right with NXT on a regular basis, then there is evidence that if there was a content reduction of the other shows, the quality of those shows would likely improve and become more appealing to fans.
Personally, I feel that WWE is over-saturating its product and this is the biggest factor for the decline in television ratings over the last few years. The world has drastically changed from when WWE began it's national and global expansions back in the mid-1980's, and with that viewing habits have also changed.
I feel the WWE Network and another programming would have really been a success during the Attitude Era. But with wrestling fans now choosing to spend more time and money supporting independent promotions, the WWE needs to adapt with the times and offer fans something more attractive, and most importantly a reason not to miss any of their core programmings.
I would solve the oversaturation problem myself by firstly dropping Raw's third hour. Yes, it's a great revenue generator from an advertising point of view, but if you really insist on a three hour Raw then do the first hour of it on WWE Network as 205 Live, which will attract more fans to that medium.
I would also cut the number of pay per views down to around ten, keeping the main four of Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Summerslam and Survivor Series, and giving Raw and Smackdown three special shows each. I would run the shows once every six weeks or so, allowing storylines to be spread out better and told at a better place.
Finally, I would scrap WWE Main Event, which currently serves no purpose. The Main Event show was originally designed to enhance storylines but domestically the show was not a success in the United States, leading to the show moving to over the top subscription service Hulu.
These changes would reduce weekly content by at least two hours, which may not sound a lot but over the course of a year, it cuts creative content by over 100 hours. It's not necessarily perfect, and most fans may still opt to only watch Raw and Smackdown, but it would at least give creative a break and fans would hopefully begin to reap the benefits of a better-produced product.
It doesn't solve the issues of who WWE chooses to continue to push as their top names, but that is a whole different subject for another day.