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  1. #1
    Senior Member LWO4Life's Avatar
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    (YLC-RD2) Why the Fox Paid One Billion to Enter the Rabbit Hole

    I was as shocked as everyone else. When the USA Network only renewed Raw, I breathed a slight sigh of relief. Five hours of WWE television a week is just too much. Little did we know that there was a Fox who wanted to enter the wrestling rabbit hole. Much like the other networks, Fox has struggled to keep viewers engaged. Many people are no longer watching live TV. Which is why Fox decided it was time to pay the National Football League $3.3 billion over five years to broadcast Thursday Night Football, the NFLís D-show. Even if the football is bad, Fox calculated that live TV might be the only way to counter a modern TV audience of binge watchers. So how does bad American football equate to WWE getting so much money?

    You see, for those who donít understand American football and the NFL, the A-show has always been Monday Night Football. Itís one day later than the other games, itís on primetime, and each week Monday Night Football is presented like a smaller scale Super Bowl. After Monday Night Football, the B-show is Sunday Night Football, which is the last game of the day on Sunday; and the network reserves the right to exchange a Sunday game from the afternoon and switch that game to place in primetime. Down at the very bottom, past all the Sunday afternoon games, is Thursday Night Football. For American football, Thursday is a very awkward day to play a game. Teams have very little time to prepare, the shorter rest period between games increase the likelihood of injury, and honestly the games just suck. With all that said, after adding Thursday Night Football, Fox increase its average viewership by 500,000 people in just one year! A very terrible NFL game has helped drive Fox viewership up. Why is that? The answer is simple, in todayís world, live TV is the only way to counter a viewerís urge to binge watch other content.

    The Rabbit Hole

    Weíve all been down that rabbit hole. One day, we are at work or school, we are listening to someone speak, and they say something that triggers a memory of an old wrestling promo. When we get to our house, we rush to find that promo, then we decide to watch another one. Before you know it, itís 11 P.M. and youíve just watched Al Snow eat Pepe and you ask, ďhow the hell did I get here?Ē It is quite simple, binge watching is easy. Everything can be binge watchable, you just need to find the right rabbit hole. But in the eyes of Fox, you were not watching Hellís Kitchen or Gotham. Donít worry, you can always watch Hellís Kitchen later. Guess what, maybe you missed the last 4 episodes of Hellís Kitchen; never fear you can always binge watch it. But when you binge watch Hellís Kitchen later, you are not watching Fox live, therefore Fox is losing out on that rating. Itís a vicious cycle. To counter this trend, Fox decided to invest in something they feel is binge watching proof, more live TV. Enter the company that produces more live TV hours per year than any other company, WWE.

    When looking for live TV, Fox has turned to the place that makes most sense. You see, people like to watch certain things live. Watching on replay, or on Hulu just isnít the same as watching a sporting event live. Once a game is over, personally, I have no interest in watching it, I just want to know the score. Same with WWE. The live experience of watching Smackdown is special, to know that each second on TV is fresh, never seen before, and anything can happen. If there is a funny botch, itís live, if a commentator slips up, itís live, if something just happened, you can tweet about it that second and hundreds of other people are reading it because Smackdown is best enjoyed when other people are watching the same thing in real time. And thatís very true for me. But why would Vince see Fox as a great partner?

    New Realities of TV

    Itís coming, cable TV is going down. Each year more people are cutting the cord. When Vince McMahon entered the cable world, cable was the way of the future and pay per view was in high demand. The young Vince McMahon saw the future and jump onboard. Starting with his All-American Wrestling slot on the USA Network, Vince would invite other promoters to send in tapes and air their matches on cable for a national audience. Instead of dealing with hundreds of TV stations across the nation, cable made it possible to do just meet with one network. Vince McMahon was modernizing wrestling faster than any other promoter in the nation, and no one had a chance. Part of the reason WWE started itís WWE Network is because I truly think Vince McMahon is correctly seeing the death of cable. The very tool Vince used to dominate the wrestling market, is now the very thing heís jumping out of. Instead of paying $70 a month to watch reruns of the same reality TV shows on repeat on many stations, people are cutting the cord. If they wanted to watch reruns of the same shows, theyíd just binge watch it on Netflix. Why watch terrible reality TV shows when you can use Netflix to binge watch Orange is the New Black.

    To see the WWE TV rating decrease week after week, one must wonder why Fox would invest so much on a show thatís trending down. Is there any sign that the WWE invest might pay off? Yes there is one key indicator that does show promise for WWE programing. Week after week, WWE ranks at, or near, the top of a very key rating, Social Content Rating. People are interactive with WWE as it is happening. Meaning there is proof people are watching live WWE TV. Your tweets matter, and it might have been responsible for WWE getting their large Fox contract! The week of July 8th, WWE held 2 of the top 5 programs in the Social Content Ratings, and the gap between the 5th ranked show (Smackdown) and the 6th ranked show (Jersey Shore) was very, very large. If people are tweeting in real-time about WWE, then they are watching in real time. This can only be a good sign for Fox.

    Is the WWE investment worth it to Fox? Yes! How much has WWE gone down because of cord cutting, Iíd say a lot. Many sceptics point to how WWEís ratings are decreasing faster than cord cutting rates, which is true. But if WWE is televised on a network, will cord cutting fans comeback. I personally believe so. Right now, Fox and WWE have entered a partnership that has many upsides for both. Both are battling the binge-watching habits of Millennial viewers. What the future holds is to be determined. But it is clear, both sides know they have much to gain if this is successful. And I think they will be.

  2. #2
    Transgender Terror
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    MNF hasn't been the marquee game for the NFL for over a decade. The moment NBC got SNF, it became that.

  3. #3
    Senior Member LWO4Life's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by T.O. View Post
    MNF hasn't been the marquee game for the NFL for over a decade. The moment NBC got SNF, it became that.
    Blah, can we at least agree that Thursday Night Football is crap

  4. #4
    You make an interesting argument that I haven't read, as it appears you have a close eye on the situation. I think the sports-like or spectacular presentation will mean a lot to the success of the product, and from my understanding, the network will have a close eye on the first show. They're looking for a blow out.


    My last run-in with trying to watch WWE live was in 2013. I had worked me schedule out to get Mondays off and made it a point to get cable and check out the product. It was so boring that I cancelled my subscription.



    The format for a wrestling show hasn't changed since Nitro challenged Raw, and they both became truly live. Maybe, if WWE were to lose one of its major TV deals, we'd see them do a show specifically made for binge watching. But for now, with AEW, Raw, and Smackdown! coming this fall, the question is how will wrestling become special on live TV again.


    One thing about competition is there are now more ideas that will be seen. A lot of good ideas came from Nitro and Raw was able to adopt them and execute them in their own way. We'll see what happens.

    Overall, good column. I think some of the sentences you open your paragraphs with, you could work on. For instance opening the first paragraph with I was shocked as everyone else didn't segue into your second sentence very well. I never really saw what you were shocked about. Also, starting a paragraph with how Vince got started with cable TV with "cable TV is going down" didn't really fit. Maybe it would fit better after the paragraph. These are just minor criticisms, but a good exercise would be to look through the paragraph and see if there's a sentence that doesn't really fit into what you're conveying or would better fit somewhere else.

    Nice insights and opinions, over all. I'd like to see if wrestling can be compelling on live TV, once more. With Bischoff at the helm of a live TV show, we'll see if he can bring some of that Nitro energy back into the game.

  5. #5
    Main Pager Maverick's Avatar
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    Much, much better: this is what I imagined I'd be seeing from you when you signed up. A well judged, mature, journalistic, enquiring approach to an interesting topic which required some research and some expert knowledge. As a Brit, the American obsession with ratings and this cable network vs that cable network has always been bizarre and confusing, but you did a great job of breaking down what's at stake for Fox and USA in all of this.

    As for WWE television, it finds itself in a strange place. Vince's last great visionary move was to put the Network in place as a Netflix style streaming service, when originally it had been announced as a traditional cable network. Ironically, Vince is as much a part of promoting the binge watch culture as anyone, which I know was what frustrated Sky in this country (WWE's UK broadcast partner for 30 years) enough to finally end their relationship with them, with the rumour being that Sky hated the fact that WWE put the PPVs on the Network, meaning no one was buying them from Sky box office anymore.

    The future is clearly for Raw and SDL to be on the Network like NXT and 205 already are, but we are perhaps a good five years away from that point...until the traditional networks finally stop lining Vince's pockets with gold (BT in this country have jumped right in to replace Sky), he has no need to revolutionise any further. But to me, the TV will ONLY improve when it's away from commercial stations.

    An excellent piece.

  6. #6
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    The thing is, no matter how much the Network becomes the place to go for WWE fans, they will always need that standard TV exposure to obtain new fans and entice them to sign up. It's kind of ironic to me that they're getting paid all that money by a network who is trying to fight against streaming subscriptions like the one they will be promoting.

    To follow up on that, mixed in with a bit of Mav's comment about UK viewing, I kind of think they've shot themselves in the foot on that front. Sure, step away from Sky, but why go from there to a paid service which has a fraction of the subscribers? I'm pretty sure one of the main stream UK channels would have paid decent money (albeit maybe not as much, I don't know the number sinvolved) and would guarantee a lot more exposure for WWE to sell their network.

    FACT or FICTION: The Future of Smackdown
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  7. #7
    Main Pager Maverick's Avatar
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    BT almost outbid Sky last time the rights came up...theyíve paid them a fuck ton.

    No one in the UK watches Raw or SD live anyway. I have Sky and BT, but if I bother to watch WWE weeklies Iíll do it on a dodgy replay website on my laptop just because I find that more convenient than fucking about recording stuff on a tv box. I donít think the move to BT does them any harm at all. If you have an EE phone or tablet, you get BT sport for free on the device anyway.

    At this point, exposure doesnít matter too much because there are already wrestling fans anyway, who (mostly) will pass wrestling on to their children if they have them. Theyíre just taking a cheque from whichever network will have them. WWE didnít drop Sky, Sky dropped WWE.

  8. #8
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Got to admit, I've been ppv only since the network started.

    Inheriting fans from generational hand downs doesn't build business though, at best it maintains the status quo

    FACT or FICTION: The Future of Smackdown
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  9. #9
    You know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here
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    Very nice work here
    Author of The WrestleMania Era book series, author of The Doctor's Orders columns on LOP since 2010, LOP Columns Hall of Famer, former host of The Doc Says podcast on LOP Radio (2013-2018), former LOP Raw and WWE PPV Reviewer (2006-2007), and former LOP Smackdown Reviewer (2004-2006)

  10. #10
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    This was outstanding, and exactly the kind of writing I believe the CF should live for - it was everything Mav described it as. It was strongly on point, the word count was judged and utilised perfectly and the points made were intelligent and hard to disagree with, though still provoked a desire to discuss. I've often felt pre-recorded, bingable programming was the true way forward for WWE in an age where viewing habits are moving that way, so the notion that actually live programming is a response rather than a failing habit is a very interesting one.

    The quality of the writing here was impeccable, the approach to the topic excellent - I mean, there's hardly anything to mark you down on. I loved it. A lot.

  11. #11
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    This is a great article man, really well thought through, really well structured and very intelligently written.

    I love how clear it is you have put some deep thought into this combining knowledge and research on multiple topics into one train of thought.

    Also a fantastic heading.

    As for me, living in Australia watching WWE live isn't really an option unless I get a day off work so it isn't something I cherrish too much beyond it being hard to avoid spoilers on social media. Having said that because of the time zones I am able to watch NJPW live most of the time which I have really enjoyed doing, perhaps I was missing out on something all along.

  12. #12
    The Brain
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    As you know I'm one of your biggest fans, and columns like this are exactly why! An interesting look at something that few other writers could have done justice too, very smart and well thought out stuff. I'll add another point in favor of wrestling remaining on TV for the time being, just look how much more seriously people started taking AEW when it was rumored they would be on TNT, which has since been confirmed. Hell, I'm considering actually trying to figure out how to install the cable part of my bundle again just so I can watch it! Hopefully next time I'll have time to send you feedback to weed out a few technical issues, but overall this was a great piece.

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