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WWE, Syfy to Move ‘SmackDown’ to Thursday Night in January (EXCLUSIVE)

WWE Network's 'NXT' to move to Wednesday nights

It’s an end of an era for WWE’s “Friday Night SmackDown.”

Syfy, which has aired the weekly series for the past four years, will move the two-hour broadcast to Thursday starting Jan. 15. “SmackDown” will continue to air in the 8 p.m. timeslot.

The new night is expected to help attract a younger audience to Syfy, as well as more premium advertising dollars from marketers, who tend to spend more to promote their products, especially film releases, on the night as consumers head into the weekend.

“Quite simply, more young men watch television on Thursday night than on Fridays,” said Michael Engleman, executive VP, marketing, digital and global brand strategy, Syfy. In fact, that tends to be 15% higher on Thursday than Friday during primetime hours among men 18-49, the exec added. And with “the majority of broadcast programming (skewing) female, we’re also using Thursday nights to counter program.”

“SmackDown,” which has aired in its current slot on Syfy since October 2010, has averaged around 3.1 million viewers, beating all Friday primetime series on any cable network, scoring especially high among men 18-34. This fall it’s been down to around 2.6 million viewers, generating a 0.75 rating among 18-49 (about 950,000 viewers in this age group).

Its loyal fanbase, which has seen growth among women over the years, helped make “SmackDown” the second longest-running weekly episodic program in U.S. television history, behind only WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.” It got its name from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s popular catchphrase, “Lay the Smackdown.”

“WWE’s sizable and passionate fan base make ‘SmackDown’ the No. 1 entertainment show on Syfy and the most-watched, regularly-scheduled program among key demographics on the network,” said Michelle Wilson, chief revenue and marketing officer, WWE. “We look forward to bringing the WWE audience to Thursday nights on Syfy.”

The show, which WWE owns, originally launched on the UPN network on Thursday nights in 1999, and made the switch to Fridays in 2005, where it aired until a new licensing deal was struck by the WWE with MyNetworkTV in 2010. It averaged around 3.4 million viewers a week on MyNetworkTV.

The move back to Thursday doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, since WWE had inadvertently started promoting the new date on the side of its production trucks in August, with images flooding social media soon after. The company said that while the new night had been contemplated, no decision had been made at the time.

One reason for the delay: The new date forced WWE to take a look at the rest of its lineup.

Having “SmackDown” air on Thursday creates a conflict with “NXT,” that streams on the WWE Network. That show and its live “NXT” specials will now move to Wednesday, at 8 p.m., as a result, Wilson told Variety.

WWE has long been open to shifting nights for “SmackDown,” saying during new TV rights negotiations with NBCUniversal and other potential partners, that it was willing to make the move and even produce the show live the way it does with its three-hour “Raw,” on USA Network. “SmackDown” is currently taped on Tuesday.

The move to Thursday could be a lucrative one for Syfy and WWE.

While it will have CBS’ “Big Bang Theory” to contend with, as the network’s deal with the NFL will have wrapped up, Fox’s “American Idol” is a shadow of its former self, and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” appeal more to female audiences.

One notable competitor could be “The Blacklist,” which NBC is considering moving to Thursdays at 9 p.m. in February.

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