Hot on the heels of one of its most profitable years ever and the stunning paradigm shift of licensing WWE Network to Peacock, WWE and its new senior management team led by president Nick Khan unveiled in WWE’s first quarter 2021 earnings call what will be driving its growth for years to come: international digital expansion.
Speaking on the call with analysts, Khan mentioned two areas for international expansion. The first was the success WWE had with Wrestlemania airing on Peacock for the first time this April, versus the typical experience on WWE Network. The WWE spectacle helped drive subscriptions to Peacock; the success of licensing it exclusively to a broader, general entertainment platform is something WWE will now explore with international territories.
(As an aside, this is an example of the value-add phenomenon VIP explored with soccer rights on general entertainment SVODs versus niche streamers.)
During the investor Q&A, Khan mentioned that WWE’s focus is international-based, and there is a real push to monetize the vast international following WWE has. Data provided by social video analytics firm Tubular Labs to VIP shows just how ripe this opportunity is for WWE.
In terms of both global unique channel views and monthly minutes watched on YouTube, WWE towers above all other major U.S. sports. While the NFL and NBA have had some success with the U.K.’s swing to American culture, only the WWE, popular in the U.K since the 1980s, sees truly global interest. There is clear demand for the product, which makes the strategy to attempt to monetize this a serious consideration, unlike say, MLB’s attempt to crack the U.K.
The Q1 earnings call was notable for the acceptance among participants — WWE officials and Wall Street analysts — that the TV ratings aren’t even worth discussing deeply anymore. Ratings haven’t even been included in the investor presentations since Q2 of last year, which is a shame, as Fox’s “Smackdown” is actually up, by 7.5%, in total weekly household viewers, per exclusive data provided to VIP by analytics firm Samba TV.
Flagship “WWE Raw” on USA was down year-over-year, though, by -28.4%. As a note, VIP analyzed monthly data across the first three months of 2021, all of which showed similar patterns to the above, but displayed the most recent week available for graphical clarity.
On the topic of TV, Khan mentioned that the recent NFL and NHL rights increases point to a world that values live sports and entertainment even when ratings are declining, and that rights will become package deals going forward. In other words, don’t expect the digital rights for “Smackdown” and “Raw” to be on Hulu much longer, with Tubi and Peacock likely to become the U.S. streaming homes for the shows.