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.
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.