As previously reported, WWE has been included in the discussions to potentially move their television content from USA to FOX Sports. The expectation is that there will be an announcement within the coming months, since their five-year contract is set to expire in the fall of 2019. Formerly, while Raw and SmackDown Live were under the same parent company, it had more of a distinguished feel since they were on different channels. Now, however, both air on USA, which some have criticized how that lessens the distinction between the brands.
If WWE was to move over to FOX Sports, the expectation is that Raw would be on the FOX network channel, while SmackDown Live would be on FS1. Since FX and FXX are also owned by FOX, it could also potentially open up a spot for NXT as well, as WWE has ran a test NXT show on USA before.
WWE Chief Financial Officer George Barrios was a part of the 46th Annual J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference this week to discuss a variety of television, social, and digital topics. One of the topics Barrios elaborated on was whether Raw and SmackDown Live could split between different companies, particularly similar to the NFL, since they are able to get higher rights fees as a result of selling their content to multiple partners.
“Market determines that opportunity. From our end, [we don’t think] it’s an issue to split it,” said Barrios. “We have done it before. We think we’re pretty good at promoting and moving our viewers from one platform to another. Seven or eight years ago, it was only from one network to another network, which changed dramatically. We can’t over-emphasize it, is the nature of social and digital and helping do that.
“So, we’ve been able to do it before, we would feel even more comfortable doing it today just because we have a direct connection with all our fans which we did not have seven or eight years ago. So, our ability to do that, if it made sense economically, there were partners interested, if we felt comfortable with the partners in question, operationally we would not see an issue with doing that.”
Barrios also discussed the advent of ESPN+, and how he is looking at this direct-to-consumer service as a product to learn from. He also discussed the importance of where a certain piece of content goes.
“We talk about that whole issue, what the purpose of this piece of content, where does it go, and it’s kind of this delegate balance and it’s probably the most difficult strategic question we’ve always wrestling with internally,” said Barrios. “So when we create Miz and Maryse and Total Divas, [does it] go on direct-to-consumer, should that be on the AVOD platform, should it be on paid TV, and ultimately you’re making that decision by looking at four things: number one, in terms of what’s the content’s main goal. To bring in new fans, so fans you don’t have today, is it to deepen engagement with your current fans, is it to help monetize other [promotions], or is it direct monetization. So those are anyways the four things you are thinking through. So when you ask the question about the trade-off for ESPN+, yeah, early days, you’re gonna be trading off distribution, the economics from what we saw… seems pretty good. So UFC is thinking through those trade-offs, is what we do.
“So, long-winded way of saying would we consider making trade-off like that, one verses the other? Yeah, we do that all the time, but it’s gotta work in the whole. So, if you’re gonna, one example, lose distribution to gain more economics, you have to have a strategy of how an I gonna engage fans that may not be engaging now. Again, that’s why the social and digital for us is so important. Six, seven, eight years ago, the answer would have been, don’t know how to do that. Today, we know how to do that. So that’s why it’s important, it gives you more flexibility.”