WWE and NBCUniversal have stepped away from the negotiating table without a new licensing deal in place for “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night SmackDown” that air on the USA and Syfy networks through October. NBCU can still match any deal that WWE secures from other interested networks for its shows.
“WWE’s exclusive negotiating period with NBCU for our flagship television programs, ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown,’ has now expired,” WWE said in a statement. The exclusive window was available to NBCU through Feb. 15, giving the company the opportunity to accept or reject WWE’s final offer.
“While we were unable to reach an agreement with NBCU during this period, we have certainly appreciated our long and productive partnership. With year-round, live programming that is highly coveted by programmers, distributors and advertisers, we are extremely excited about our future. We look forward to engaging with potential partners who recognize the value of having the #1 show on cable and live content delivered 52 weeks a year.”
WWE will now start negotiating with other companies, although a new deal with NBCU could still be brokered once it sees what other networks are willing to pay. WWE is considering multiple plans for its shows: airing them all with a single family of networks or splitting them up across multiple network owners.
Either way, the company is looking to significantly increase the $139.5 million in TV licensing fees WWE earns each year for its shows, and attempt to get closer to the rich network deals that sports organizations like the NBA, NHL NASCAR, as well as soccer command.
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 as live “event” programming is more valuable than ever.
The three-hour “Raw” currently airs live, but WWE wants to also offer up “SmackDown” as a live show.
“We’ve never been in this situation where we’re able to go into the marketplace with both ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown,'” said Michelle Wilson, chief revenue and marketing officer, WWE. “We’re going to let the marketplace decide the value of our programming.”
Further talks with NBCU are still expected to take place, despite an initial exclusive window having come and gone.
“Raw” is a huge ratings generator for USA Network in the weekly ratings; without “Raw” on its schedule, the network would drop from first place to as low as No. 4 among basic entertainment channels.
When it comes to collecting premium advertising dollars, however, USA Network earns the lowest CPMs for “Raw” than other programs, sources say. Translation: the ads that air during “Raw” are cheap. While WWE wants to get the same kind of licensing fees sports orgs get, it will have to find ways to boost those CPMs to make it as valuable. One thing hurting it is that its top PPV event, “WrestleMania,” doesn’t air on USA, for example. “WrestleMania 30” will stream live on the new WWE Network, that launches Feb. 24, and other PPV platforms, instead.
Still Syfy would also lose a sizable audience without “SmackDown,” which has raised viewership by 35% for the network. “Divas” is a hit for E! but perhaps has benefitted WWE more given that it’s helped the company attract more women, which currently make up around 35% of its audience.