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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk - We All Go Down Together



    It’s been a few weeks since the start of what people – at least, people already in the bubble – are calling the ‘Wednesday Night War’. So far, the story is one of decline.

    Let’s be candid about this – one thing you must factor in is that AEW outdid expectations in the first instance. That means you are more likely to go down, than if you’d only hit those expectations. It makes growth harder because all the easy places to grow are already accounted for. For what it’s worth I think they outplayed those initial expectations in large part because they were deliberately played down, but even allowing for that they beat what I thought was likely.

    There are other things to factor in, too. NXT had an inbuilt disadvantage because anyone who subscribes to the WWE Network can watch that show after the fact, and without commercials. Running up against a World Series Game 7 is also a big deal and one that everyone has – rightly – latched on to as a reason why you can expect things to have underperformed particularly on one week.

    I say all that because it is only fair to recognise that there are reasons for some of this. But, taking it all into account, above and beyond all that the trend so far is one of decline.

    I’m primarily interested in the combined audience, because that is the figure that will tell you whether a show (or the conflict between the shows) is generating a new audience. If the number is no bigger than wrestling on the other nights, there’s no reason to believe new fans are being drawn in, at least not in any meaningful quantity. Individual shows ratings rising and falling can always be attributed to fans moving between the two shows – when the combined figure goes up, or more accurately when it trends up over several weeks, you know that the audience is growing. Conversely, when the trend is downwards, you know people are turning away from both products.

    So, if you go back to the first week where the two shows were head-to-head, their combined audience was around 2.3 million. That’s a good outing for wrestling right now. It doesn’t suggest that they got anyone who isn’t already in the bubble to watch, but it probably does mean that all the hardcore fans were joined by a bunch of curious fans who were either lapsed, or only really watched WWE's main roster. When they are joined by the on-demand and encore showing, the number does start to look respectable. As I say, not enough to conclude that there was much going on in the way of growth – and less promising than the 4m did when Smackdown first turned up on FOX – but it’s a total no one can really criticise.

    From the second week on, the story starts to look different immediately. One can point to the AEW Dynamite audience following being down by 300,000. If you’re feeling charitable, you can say that’s about what TV ratings tend to do after the first week for most non-wrestling shows. If you are feeling more critical, you can say that means a significant portion of your audience were moved to watch the show and having seen what you have to offer, decided it wasn’t for them. Given that the audience itself was not a great deal bigger than what is predominantly a hardcore wrestling crowd, that’s got to be some concern, because this is not just any TV show. The rules are a little bit different in our world. Our audience is necessarily more self-selecting even before you begin.

    But again, the bigger point is not the decline in the individual rating, but in the combined audience. In week 2, that was down to around 1.9 million viewers. A week later, that fell by about 100,000 viewers – something that looks like a tie, but this was a week with less major competition for viewers than the previous week had done. For both shows to be down – even if it was barely down in Dynamite’s case – is not good, as this should have seen them both rising.

    The competition was stronger again on week 4, and AEW dropped another 5%, while NXT dropped under 700,000 for the first time. Put together, their combined strength for week 4 was around 1.6 million. Or to put this another way, the combined audience had decreased in a month by the size of audience that NXT had left.

    There had been a few weeks where the shows had been up against baseball to this point, but the following week – up against a decisive game 7 – is the one that I don’t personally think you can read too much into. This week was a hiding to nothing, and they’d arguably have been better off just staying home and saving what they had for another week. If you’re interested then the combined audience was probably a little less than 1.4 million, but don’t read too much into that. The thing that was interesting about that week was the amount by which they rebounded when they next had the chance.

    Well, now we know. AEW went up by the disappointing 8%, while WWE rebounded massively and scored 813,000 – their best showing since week 1. The combined audience, though, only amounts to 1.6 million.

    So, what are the things that we know from all this so far?

    One is that as wars go, in the early days this looks much more like the performance of both shows following TNA’s move to Monday Nights than in the weeks following the debut of Nitro. In 1995, the audience for wrestling started to grow almost immediately. Right now, we’re not only not growing, but these shows are going clearly in the wrong direction.

    We know that 30% of the people who were willing to give Wednesday Night Wrestling a shot in the first week are either not watching any more, or, at the very least, are not motivated enough to watch it as it happens.

    There’s also the possibility in these numbers that baseball didn’t really hurt AEW all that much. Baseball and WWE are both supposed to have fanbases that skew towards older people, and NXT’s bounced back far more strongly than AEW’s. Yes, they also loaded the dice with main roster talent, and that must be factored in. But NXT’s performance either side of the World Series demands that you factor these things in – while AEW Dynamite’s is barely changed by the lack of opposition. It is as likely right now that the combined audience for those shows over the past couple of weeks is either just over or just under 800,000, in line with the trend in previous weeks.

    One other thing that jumps out is how much we weigh in NXT loading the dice – did having the NXT guys turn up on the main shows help their audience by pulling in other WWE fans who hadn’t been watching in the previous few weeks? If so, that’s interesting because the overall number is still down, which raises the question of why aren’t we seeing an influx? Are fans moving away from the two shows at a faster rate than we first thought?

    It is hard, then, to suggest anything other than these shows are struggling to find a foothold, and to get an audience and keep them. Yes, they are new and yes, they must build their brands, but right now they aren’t even holding the handful of people who were left in the wrestling market to begin with. AEW have the benefit of being the hottest thing in Wrestling since Hulk Hogan returned to the WWE in 2002 and that hasn’t translated yet – without something to get people’s attention that is only going to fade with time. NXT, meanwhile, are not going to be able to load the dice forever. I have a greater degree of scepticism about their long-term future as part of this equation, even with this strong bounce-back.

    But it is not all doom and gloom. Cody’s promo this past week has received almost universal praise and has been widely shared. If you wanted something to hook people’s attention in the right way, something that might encourage people to give you another look, that is the sort of thing you need – and it could not come at a more opportune time. NXT has been getting solid reviews for several weeks now and if they can convince people that this is something that you have to see at the earliest possible opportunity, rather than waiting to catch later, then they might actually be able to lay a glove on their trendier rival.

    I certainly expect AEW’s audience to go up next week. I am certainly of the opinion that the decline isn’t terminal yet, nor do I think that there isn’t a floor to how far they can fall, or that you won’t get rewards for intriguing segments like Cody’s promo. I am less sure about how NXT will fare over time, because the Network is the elephant in the room.

    But the truth is the truth, however, and the following points are beyond debate – there isn’t a mainstream audience out there for either show yet, and to be honest they are struggling to hold on to the people who are disposed to watch them. I’m not saying that either desperately needs to pivot right now, and maybe each can hold their place on their respective networks with the kind of performance they’ve put in over the last couple of weeks. If the idea is to prove that you can have another ‘golden era’ with the product that modern wrestling has become, however, then that is a test that the Wednesday shows are failing, just as much as RAW and Smackdown and Impact and all the others have been failing it before them.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    The Brain
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    Part of me feels that it's almost impossible to grow a sustained viewership in the current era, not just in wrestling but in almost anything. There are so many options now for entertainment alone that it feels inevitable fandoms will splinter off endlessly, and it's rare that we see sustained popularity on levels we've seen in the past. But I could be wrong about that, I admit it's an idea that comes from felt sense rather than research.

    On a more down to specific level, I wonder when was the last time wrestling saw a sustained rise in viewership in any area? A small build for Cena before the Benoit suicide tanked them? Farther back than that, in the 96-98 range?

    None of this is to disagree with any of your points here, which are mostly just facts and not really disputable. There was an audience there on week one watching on TV that isn't watching now. I wish we could see viewership across other devices more clearly, as TV gets more and more antiquated, but there's nothing to firmly suggest it would yield significantly higher results. I suppose for now there's nothing to do but watch what you enjoy and see if the numbers follow along with that, and if they don't what will wrestling promotions do to reverse the trend? Good piece Pete, always love when you crank one out.

  3. #3
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    I think I agree with you, in that I'm not sure it's possible either. I tend more towards the 'damage might already be done' end rather than the 'social factors have changed' thing, because although there are that many different options out there wrestling fans seem to determined to thwart the 'it's like all other entertainment' agenda by continuing to treat wrestling more like a sport, at least in terms of viewership patterns. That's actually quite good for wrestling and has seen it become quite a desirable property for networks in a way it never really was in the past. But even so, I think something like the 1980s is almost impossible now - I mean, the Attitude era didn't even reach the peak of the WWF's viewers in the 1980s, and that's not counting all those other promotions that still existed that had their own fans who wouldn't watch that 'fake cartoon shit'.

    Where I think it is fair to think about it, though, is that though we can't really expect wrestling to get back to past peaks, we can at least look for it to make it back to what were previously considered valleys. I look at how many people were watching wrestling during the mid-1990s, considered disastrous at the time, and I'm looking to where someone - anyone - can drag wrestling back to at least that level of success. I'm setting the bar pretty low, myself, to account for those social changes and to be fair.

    Cena's an interesting one. I tend to count that little spurt that he gets as a statistical tie, myself, though I suppose if you were more charitable you could read more into it. It is the only moment where my 'twenty years of decline' thing can be really questioned. But if you want an unquestioned build, it starts pretty much from the very beginning of the MNW in 1995 and trends upwards until around June of 1999, when things begin to cool (albeit it slowly for a long time).

    It will be interesting to see if there's a way of better measuring viewing outside of traditional TV. Right now there's not a lot of reason to believe that it would make a difference, as you say. Even so, I can make an argument for why AEW might be disproportionately affected by it, compared to other wrestling. At the moment, though, all you can do is say it's probably not true and even if it is, it kinda just sucks to be them. As for what you can do... not much is probably the answer to that. I might argue that the thing to do is go quiet about the acts that probably play to a niche and are a turnoff for bigger audiences, though short of people doing that collectively I can't imagine it'd have much of a result.

    Thanks for reading, mate. Appreciate you stopping by.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  4. #4
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Got to say, I still don't believe the Wednesday Night Wars exist anywhere except forums like these. Maybe in a few years time we will look back on this era and call it that, but at the moment the only reason the phrase exists is because for the first time in a long time, fans have hope.

  5. #5
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    That's pretty much what I was trying to convey with that opening line. Although I don't think forums like these are particularly different from the wrestling audience as a whole anymore, or the kind of thing you'd find on Twitter. But the audience as a whole is so small now that whether you talk on a forum like this or not, everyone who is left is basically the same. I don't think for one second that anyone who is outside the bubble thinks this is a way - anymore than TNA's move to Monday night was a war.

    Very different time, of course, but in 1995 the viewership trend upwards was almost immediate - whether that was new fans or just the sense that you *had* to watch live, and every week - and until the same trend is observable here, to call it a war is still to make a mountain out of a molehill. Right now, AEW is basically a well-funded minor promotion with a decent TV deal, and until that changes it's going to be solely a conversation for people in the bubble.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  6. #6
    HUGE Member TheLAW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DynamiteBillington View Post
    Got to say, I still don't believe the Wednesday Night Wars exist anywhere except forums like these. Maybe in a few years time we will look back on this era and call it that, but at the moment the only reason the phrase exists is because for the first time in a long time, fans have hope.
    This is where I'm at. Except no hope. I'd be a lot happier if one of these companies would make a deal with netflix. One, I think the Network, for all of its frills, is only good for PPV. Everything else they offer, Netflix could do better than they do.

    When AEW was first coming around I was hoping they might go that route like Lucha Underground ALMOST did.

    The major issue I think wrestling is facing right now is that there are way too many options and cable/satellite/actual PPV remains the most expensive one.

  7. #7
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheLAW View Post
    PPV remains the most expensive one.
    Yeah - I didn't watch the first couple of AEW events because why would I pay out for a PPV put on by a company which at that time didn't really exist.

    I was planning to watch Full Gear, and was even prepared to fork out the £15ish(?) to do so, but when I went to find it last night it had already been removed from ITV Box Office. To me, that just says they don't want my money anyway.

    They either need to keep the PPVs available longer/indefinitely, or face losing me (and probably others) as a viewer. I'm not in this just to watch the weekly adverts for the PPVs, which if they go all in with the PPV model that's all Dynamite will become.

    Getting in bed with Netflix would be a great thing for them so that content would remain available. Despite not subscribing to this one, Amazon Prime could be an even better option as it has content you pay extra for on top of your subscription which would suit the PPV model perfectly.

  8. #8
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    LAW - well, I must admit that I don't keep the Network for PPV, so I obviously think it's good for other things. I don't think you'd get anything like the range of archival material on a non-wrestling specific service. Though what you did get, another service would probably cover it better. I am fed up with the overall quality of the Network and it's infrastructure. The Network was such a gamble in so many key ways that I'm not sure I can see them ever moving away from having their own service willingly. If it happens, it'll be through necessity.

    You guys are both right in a sense that PPV is the most expensive one, but that also makes it the most lucrative, so moving away from it entirely - especially just to be someone who puts their stuff up on someone else's service - is no small decision. Dyno, we forget sometimes that although we'd have to fork out £15, it's closer to £40 in the US, and there are tens of thousands of people paying that right now.

    I guess for AEW, the thing is that they are already offering their PPVs through FITE, which gives you a couple of months to watch (the ITV Box Office option is the more traditional PPV style with 'replays' at specific times rather than being On Demand). But that deal, like the WWE Network, makes going to Netflix or someone like that less likely, too.

    In a sense this is the conundrum right here. They've been preaching to the choir so far. People already in that choir will make sure they are there to watch live, or will think nothing about ordering through FITE or sitting down at a specific time for a replay. Once you go outside that group - even still amongst the handful of wrestling fans who are left - you start hitting people who are used to having entertainment cater much more to them, so if you give them hurdles to clear they aren't going to check it out.

    Anyway, thanks for reading, gentlemen.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  9. #9
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    FITE?

    Does that means there's still a way to watch the show in the UK or is it a US only thing?

    Excuse the ignorance, I'm still mostly old school when it comes to my viewing habits and aside from Netflix (which I access using my standard TV package) and the WWE Network I've never explored any streaming or online alternatives to watching regular TV.

  10. #10
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    I don't know the full details myself (why would I, given I've not seen a single episode of Dynamite?) but I've sent you a link that you can follow up on, and see if it works out for you.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  11. #11
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Thanks mate - I'll check it out tonight

  12. #12
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    Totally agree that there isn't a mainstream audience for either show yet which is why they can't remain consistent. I honestly thought that AEW would stay just over 1 million viewers for the first few weeks so their drop two weeks later was definitely a surprise to me. It's been just over a month and perhaps people are still deciding if either show is for them. Perhaps the channel surfers also come into play who switch between shows when they see an interesting match or promo and then stay with the opposing show for some time. There are definitely alot of factors that come into play but it is still early days. I started watching AEW to see what it was all about. I am four shows in, started watching 2 weeks ago, and haven't watched WWE since. It's actually refreshing and rejuvenating my fandom somewhat. As for NXT, it needs to be removed from the Network ASAP. Why would you watch a show live when you can watch it on your own time? I would love to see how Cody and co. react if NXT were to beat them in the ratings one week.

    Interesting read, this.

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