×

Spike TV smacks down WWE

The cabler and McMahon part ways

Spike TV has severed ties with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, effectively ending its run on the cabler this fall.

Move is said to be part of a larger repositioning at Spike aimed at evolving the men’s net beyond low-budget reality shows. Doug Herzog, who became president of the cabler in January (Daily Variety, Jan. 31), has stressed quality over quantity in recent interviews and said his priorities are to produce a handful of high-quality scripted shows — a natural and logical complement to the cabler’s “CSI” repeats.

“After several months of negotiations, we have decided to end our discussions about extending our relationship with the WWE beyond September 2005,” Spike said in a statement. “Moving forward, Spike TV will expand its investments in original programming and new acquisitions for its core audience.”

With the WWE’s contract with Spike expiring in September, McMahon reportedly held preliminary discussions last year with several cable groups — including Turner Broadcasting, NBC Universal and FX — about possibly relocating the franchise, which has suffered ratings losses in recent years.

Previous landlord USA seems to be the sole option left on basic cable. Reps for Turner and FX said neither company was interested in acquiring the franchise. Sci Fi Channel/USA prexy Bonnie Hammer is said to have a soft spot for the sport, having championed it when she was a programming exec at USA a dozen years ago.

Spokesmen for WWE and USA separately declined comment.

Brand USA

Hammer, who’s busy carving out a brand for the general entertainment cabler, has said in past interviews that USA’s new positioning could very well include a home for wrestling should it return to her fold. Still, the wrestling audience, made up primarily of young males, may not be the best fit for USA, which targets an older 25-54 crowd.

McMahon had been seeking rate increases from Spike, which has been coughing up around $500,000 per week for 260 hours of fresh programming, which it runs 52 weeks a year. Split won’t affect WWE’s pact with Viacom sibling network UPN, which has a year left on its contract. Web is home to “WWE SmackDown!,” one of its most-watched shows since it debuted in 1999.

Wrestling was integral to Viacom’s rebranding of TNN to Spike in 2003, and programming — while on the ratings decline — continues to draw big numbers to Spike. Monday night event “WWE Raw” claimed eight of the top 25 spots on the list of the most-watched shows on ad-supported cable last month, with auds reaching more than 5 million. Spike also airs weekend fare “Experience,” “Heat” and “Velocity.”

Along with top-performing “CSI” repeats, wrestling helped vault Spike to the No. 4 spot in adults 18-49 for February, up 30%.

Insiders say with runs of “CSI: NY” on the way, Spike was only too eager to shake its dependence on wrestling.

Grappling auds

A source familiar with the negotiations said that the problem for McMahon and Co. has always been the same: Madison Avenue isn’t interested in the aud wrestling attracts.

“Advertisers don’t like it. So even though it does big ratings, they don’t necessarily translate to revenue for the network,” the source said. “If I’m Spike, and only three people in the marketplace are willing to buy time during wrestling, it doesn’t make sense for me to keep paying considerable money to keep it on.”

What’s more, wrestling has yet to prove itself as a valuable promotional tool for a network’s other programs. Only recently has Spike seen some growth leading out of “Raw,” with original series “Ultimate Fighter.” Most recent episode of the skein, from “American Chopper” exec producer Craig Piligian, drew 1.9 total million viewers Monday — up a whopping 100% in men 18-49 from the previous year.

Without a TV home, however, McMahon stands to lose the two-thirds of the revenues brought in by live events and pay-per-view. “If you take away the television element out of the wrestling formula, it’s death for the company,” the insider said.

More TV

  • Winner of the 2019 Eurovision Song

    Netherlands' Duncan Laurence Wins 2019 Eurovision Song Contest

    Madonna’s controversial performance may have grabbed the headlines, but Duncan Laurence won the nearly four-hour-long 2019 Eurovision Song Contest for the Netherlands with the song “Arcade,” which he cowrote with Joel Sjöö and Wouter Hardy. Laurence won a total of 492 points from the expert juries and televoters in a contest that was touch and [...]

  • 'SNL' Cold Open Has Alec Baldwin's

    'SNL' Cold Open Has Alec Baldwin's Trump Rocking Out to Queen

    The cold open for the season finale of “Saturday Night Live” saw the Trump administration taking some liberties with a rock classic. Alec Baldwin returned as President Donald Trump, letting America know that he is going to be taking it easy now that summer is nearly here. He then said he was going to do [...]

  • Great Point Invests in U.K. Indie

    Great Point Invests in U.K. Indie Producer Seven Seas (EXCLUSIVE)

    U.K.-based Great Point has bought into Seven Seas Films, the British indie producer that recently teamed with BBC Studios for a drama series about the final months of Marilyn Monroe. Great Point has a new “enterprise investment scheme” fund, Great Point Ventures, and is primed to invest in several more film and TV producers in [...]

  • Outlander Season 4 Finale

    What CBS' Pursuit of Starz Means for CBS, Lionsgate

    CBS’ effort to buy pay TV service Starz from Lionsgate seems on the surface to be a head scratcher. CBS has told Wall Street for years that it has prospered because it brings only two must-have services to the table in negotiations with MVPDs, allowing the Eye to drive a hard bargain. Why would CBS [...]

  • Doha Film Institute Steps Up Documentaries

    Doha Film Institute Steps Up Documentaries and TV Series Grants

    The Doha Film Institute, which is at Cannes as a co-financier of Elia Suleiman’s competition entry “It Must Be Heaven,” has announced the 37 projects receiving its Spring Grants, roughly half of them to be directed by women. The latest batch of mostly Arabic fare set to tap into support from the DFI, a key [...]

  • Dana Brunetti

    Dana Brunetti Sues to Block Season 2 of 'Manhunt'

    Producer Dana Brunetti filed suit on Friday seeking to block the second season of the anthology series “Manhunt,” which is set to dramatize the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Brunetti sued Lionsgate, the production company, as well as Discovery Communications and Charter Communications. Brunetti, the producer of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and many other [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content