WWE is testing a business model from its past in order build an attraction for the future.
The professional-wrestling entertainment company said it would allocate its talent roster among its two big programs on NBCUniversal’s USA cable network, assigning performers like Big Show and Apollo Crews to either its live “Monday Night Raw” program or its Tuesday-night “Smackdown” show, which goes live on July 19. That first live “Smackdown” will feature a draft. Following that event, the two USA shows will “compete with each other for television ratings, live events, and pay-per-views,” the company said Monday.
The decision means the company will operate two “leagues,” of a sort. Each program will have its own casts, champions, plots and writing teams.
“We’re already hearing the excitement among WWE fans for SmackDown’s new live format, and our audiences are eagerly anticipating the live draft and what it means for their favorite Superstars,” said Chris McCumber, president of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s entertainment networks, in a prepared statement. The debut of a live “Smackdown” comes as two of the WWE’s biggest attractions, John Cena and Seth Rollins, are returning to competition from injuries.
Longtime fans may already have a sense of what’s coming. From 2002 to 2011, the two shows featured different rosters – an attempt to feature as many wrestlers as possible after WWE had purchased rivals World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. The purchases had essentially doubled the size of the company’s roster.
With the three-hour “Raw” airing on Monday, USA will feature five hours of live WWE wrestling each week. Both programs will air live 52 weeks a year.
The move would seem to reflect a growing desire by TV networks to find more ways to air content that needs to be seen as it airs, rather than days or weeks later via a DVR or video on demand. Networks like NBC and Fox have turned live broadcasts of favorite Broadway plays into high-rated events, and many broadcast and cable outlets have placed more emphasis on securing rights to top sports events like the Olympics or the NCAA men’s basketball championships.