×

WWE Closes Deal to Keep ‘Raw,’ ‘SmackDown’ on USA Network, Syfy (EXCLUSIVE)

'Total Divas' to remain on E! as part of new deal

WWE will keep its flagship shows “Raw” and “SmackDown” on NBCUniversal’s USA Network and Syfy, respectively.

Variety first reported early Thursday that a new licensing deal to keep the shows on the cable channels was being finalized between WWE and NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment.

USA Network president Chris McCumber, Syfy president Dave Howe and I are incredibly pleased to renew this strategic partnership with WWE,” said  NBCUniversal Cable chairman Bonnie Hammer in a statement later in the day as it presented its programming slate to advertisers for 17 cable channels, including USA, Syfy, Bravo and E!, inside New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

“In today’s TV landscape,  live event programming is an extraordinarily valuable asset, and WWE remains the only entertainment franchise that consistently delivers this on a 52-week a year basis,” Hammer added. “We look forward to bringing WWE’s action-packed and unique brand of drama to the wide audiences across our cable networks for many years to come.”

Although financial details of the multiyear deal have not yet been disclosed, analysts on Wall Street believe WWE has been able to double the licensing fees for its shows. In 2013, it earned $160.9 million from broadcast rights around the world, and $139.5 million in 2012.

However, in a separate announcement, WWE significantly downplayed the final figure.

“Over the past six months, the company has negotiated television distribution agreements in the U.S., U.K. and Thailand, and is in the midst of discussions regarding the distribution of WWE content in India,” it said in a statement. “The company estimates that it will increase the average annual value of these key television agreements to approximately $200 million, representing an increase of more than $90 million, that is nearly three times the increase achieved in the previous round of negotiations.

“Management believes that the new agreements more fully reflect the value of WWE content, including significant first-run hours, a passionate and loyal fan base, and 90% ‘live plus same day’ viewership, in the U.S., which makes WWE content, like sports, ‘DVR-proof,'” WWE said.

Raw” attracts an audience of close to 5 million viewers a week, helping USA maintain its position as the No. 1 cable network, while “SmackDown” pulls in around 2.75 million.

WWE’s current deal with NBCUniversal was set to expire at the end of September.

In addition to “Raw” and “SmackDown,” Reality show “Total Divas” airs on E!, another NBCUniversal-owned network, and has turned into another hit, with a weekly audience of around 1.4 million. Future seasons of the show, produced by Bunin-Murray Prods, will continue to air on E! “Main Event” had aired on Ion Television but now appears on the WWE Network.

“We are proud to continue our long-standing partnership with NBCUniversal given their premiere position in the marketplace and vast promotional platforms,” said WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. “We are excited about our future as we further the reach and popularity of our live, family-friendly entertainment programming 52 weeks a year.”

While WWE had expected a new deal to be announced by May, several deal points still needed to be worked out. Blame a new era of digital distribution.

Lawyers have been working out windowing terms of when episodes would be available on mobile platforms like tablets and smartphones, as well as when they could be rebroadcast on the WWE Network, an all-digital streaming service the company launched in February.

As was first reported by Variety, WWE has been shopping for a new deal for its TV shows since January, and has sought to capitalize on the kind of coin live sports and events programming are commanding since they are considered DVR-proof and generate strong ratings.

This week, Major League Soccer announced a new eight-year deal with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision, worth a combined $90 million — quadrupling what it currently receives — beginning in 2015.

Last year, Nascar secured a new 10-year deal with NBC and Fox worth $820 million a year (up from around $560 million), despite declining ratings for many of its races.

In the past, deals for WWE’s series were brokered individually on a staggered timeline, usually every three to four years. But WWE is making all of its shows available through new licensing deals at once.

The three-hour “Raw” currently airs live, but WWE also has considered offering up “SmackDown” as a live show to sweeten a deal with a network.

SEE ALSO: WWE Aims to Pin Down Rich New TV Rights Deals (EXCLUSIVE)

NBCUniversal and WWE declined to comment.

Still speculation on the new deal sent WWE’s stock soaring on Wednesday. While Wall Street saw trading taking a dive, shares of WWE ended the day up nearly 5.2% to close at $19.35, gaining $0.95. It traded as high as $19.90 during the day.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Overall View of the Rose Bowl

    One Dead, One Injured in Rose Bowl Parking Lot Shooting

    One person was killed and another was injured Saturday night following a shooting in a Rose Bowl parking lot, the Pasadena police confirmed. According to a statement from the police department, police responded to reports of a physical altercation and shots fired at 11:22 p.m. near the area of Arroyo Boulevard and Seco Street, where [...]

  • Felicity Huffman

    Felicity Huffman Issues Apology After Receiving Prison Sentence: 'There Are No Excuses'

    Felicity Huffman issued a long statement of apology on Friday after receiving a two-week prison sentence for paying to illegally boost her daughter’s SAT score. In the statement, Huffman, in addition to saying  she accepts the court’s decision, acknowledges and apologizes to other parents fighting to get their children into college. Along with the prison [...]

  • Actress Felicity Huffman (C-L) and her

    Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days in Prison in SAT Cheating Case

    Felicity Huffman was sentenced on Friday to 14 days in prison for the crime of paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score. Judge Indira Talwani also ordered her to serve 250 hours of community service and a year of probation, and pay a $30,000 fine. The sentence came as a surprise, as Talwani had [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER

    Rihanna Sings (Briefly), Pharrell and DJ Khaled Rock the Mic at Star-Studded Diamond Ball

    In just five years, Rihanna’s Diamond Ball has become one of the music industry’s biggest events of its kind, nearly on the level of the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala. While there are several dazzling charity events with equal starpower and often-unique performances, what makes the Diamond Ball different is, obviously enough, Rihanna’s supernova aura and [...]

  • Amber Heard Seeks Info on Johnny

    Amber Heard Seeks Info on Johnny Depp's Arrests and Substance Abuse

    Amber Heard is asking Johnny Depp to turn over records related to his arrests and drug treatment, as her lawyers defend her from a $50 million defamation suit. Depp filed suit in March, accusing his ex-wife of tanking his career by writing a Washington Post op/ed alluding to her domestic violence allegations against him. Heard [...]

  • David Nevins, Chief Creative Officer, CBS

    David Nevins: CBS-Viacom Merger to Create 'Virtuous Eco-System' for Content

    CBS and Viacom leaders are looking for opportunities to create a “virtuous eco-system” for content that can prosper across the various platforms of the two companies that are set to merge by year’s end. That was the sentiment shared by David Nevins, chief creative officer of CBS and chairman-CEO of Showtime Networks, during a Q&A [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content