Ever since the Monday Night Wars, the WWE has been paying attention to their ratings and viewership as an indicator of what the fans like and dislike. During this time, both WWE Monday Night Raw and WCW Monday Nitro were giving it their all to provide quality entertainment and pull in higher ratings than the other show. The ratings for the WWE were through the roof to the point where they managed to do an 8.1; the highest rated episode of any professional wrestling show to this day. This, along with high attendance at shows and a finger on the pulse of trends and mainstream culture, and the WWE at this time was at the highest of highs. Fast forward to the WWE of 2016 and the results aren’t nearly as good.
In 2016, the WWE is making more money than ever before and they have more people employed than ever before, but the viewership and ratings have not improved nor maintained itself since the Ruthless Aggression Era, let alone the Attitude Era. For the past four years, the WWE has been getting record low ratings that get lower and lower each year. This year, they have managed to hit an all-time low of 1.75; the lowest rating of a non-holiday Raw since 1996. With ratings as low as this, it can only lead to the conclusion that today’s audience isn’t interested in the WWE.
Now some people think that the ratings don’t matter for a variety of reasons, such as social media and other streaming venues, while others think that all those points are proven irrelevant when comparing Raw to other television stations. In fact, the people who think the ratings still matter also think that the state of the WWE product is what is causing the ratings decline.
16 Don't Matter - Other TV Shows Have Declining Ratings
One of the first counterarguments generally given when discussing why ratings don’t matter is that television viewership is already on the decline. An article from Variety showed that the Netflix streaming service is what analysts attributed to the 50% decline in TV viewership in 2015 and it was projected to surpass the viewership of major networks like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC by 2016. Another study in an article from Fortune showed that not only had traditional TV peaked in 2009-2010, but that smartphones, streaming services, and game consoles were being used as many as 8.5 million people per minute in the 18-34 demographic while TV had fallen by 10% to 8.4 million people per minute.
With all the information provided above, it’s evident that TV viewership is on the decline and that traditional viewership isn’t as strong of an indicator.
15 Matter - Raw's Ratings Have Been Declining for Years
While it is true that TV has been on a decline for years, the Raw ratings have been declining even before TV’s downward spira began. Looking at some of the ratings provided by Gerweck.net, there was a clear decline during the year 2001; what fans mostly attribute to the Austin heel turn and the lackluster "Invasion" angle. At the start of the Ruthless Aggression Era, Raw stays mostly consistent with 3s and 4s all the way up until about 2011; when 2s in the ratings became an expectation during the fall and winter.
During parts of 2014 and 2015, ratings would see big increases with stars like Brock Lesnar and Sting making appearances; which indicates that the star power for the roster is the biggest determining factor and that the WWE’s star power is certainly not where it should be. These increases and declines clearly demonstrate that Raw’s viewership isn’t directly correlated to the decline in TV, as their decline began a long time ago.
In the words of Jim Cornette, “Wrestling is the only form of sport and entertainment currently today where more people used to like it then than they do now.”
14 Don't Matter - Social Media & Online Presence
Another reason attributed to the decline of viewership and ratings are due to their presence on social media. Looking at the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the WWE, they have amassed millions of followers.
The WWE’s Twitter account has eight million people, but their Facebook and YouTube pages have surpassed even that with their YouTube page at 12 million subscribers and their Facebook page having 33 million likes. Include the WWE app into the equation and there are at least three different ways fans could be informed about the product.
Now other TV shows may have updates sent out from their social media accounts, but the WWE keeps their audience informed around the clock. Almost every five minutes during Monday Night Raw, their account is tweeting out a picture or video of an upcoming match or a previous match result. So with quick updates like that, it’s somewhat expected that their ratings aren’t as strong, as fans are already updated on what's happened.
13 Matter - Not All Their Social Media Is Active
The WWE has a huge presence on social media, but the fact remains that they rarely tap into their full subscribers or go beyond them. Sometimes, their YouTube videos reach high numbers like five million views, like the video of Kevin Owens winning the World Title. While other times, it’s relatively underwhelming like for the Demon Finn Bálor and Seth Rollins confrontation on Raw, which has only gotten to 1.4 million viewers after about a month. Basically, the viewership boils down to people’s interest.
Another example would be looking at the video where Triple H attacked Roman Reigns in the buildup to their WrestleMania match. On YouTube, their brawl got three million viewers while on Facebook they only got one million. Not only does this show that they can’t always tap into their massive following, but that there are different results found on different mediums.
12 Don't Matter - WWE Is Wrestling
Whether fans like it or not, the WWE is the only professional wrestling company today that is viewed on national television. TNA Impact Wrestling and Lucha Underground are on television networks, but those channels aren’t available to most cable viewers nor are they as popular or well known as the USA Network. There are other wrestling companies available online, but none of them have the legacy or the mainstream advertising machine that the WWE has.
With no other wrestling company available on a major network or with recognition on a mainstream media level, the WWE is practically the only place people would go to watch wrestling; especially in the case of the casual fan. When most people think of wrestling, they typically think about the WWE and because of that, any loss in ratings typically gets resolved when the more popular seasons for wrestling come around.
11 Matter - Other TV Shows Are Competition
While it is true that they don’t have to worry about ratings and viewership with other wrestling companies, the fact remains that they are still competing against other shows on a weekly basis and a lot of times, they’re on the losing end.
Looking at the television ratings for August 15th, 2016 and you’ll find that the WWE barely got to three million viewers on the go-home show for SummerSlam, losing to Love and Hip Hop Hollywood in the ratings. This was the last Monday Night Raw before the second biggest show of the year and it couldn’t even maintain three million viewers.
This doesn’t even include other Raw episodes where their viewership couldn’t surpass shows like American Ninja Warrior or The Big Bang Theory. Now with Monday Night Football back in the mix, the WWE will have an even harder time competing with shows that people deem more interesting.
10 Don't Matter - Raw Never Ends
Monday Night Football, Love and Hip Hop Hollywood, Big Bang Theory, and all the other shows that tend to do better against Raw either in viewership or ratings all have big differences that separate them from Monday Night Raw; which is that Raw never takes a break.
Ever since Raw has aired, they have rarely, if ever, cancelled a show or taken a break even for just a week. Their tapings and live shows occur week after week with no interruption. Look back at the Raw after the Royal Rumble this year and you’ll see them doing anything and everything they can to put on an entertaining show; even going as far as to give away their top matches from their network shows. Other shows have the luxury of limited episodes per season, but Raw attempts to keep people entertained week after week; a much more difficult and daunting task over time.
9 Matter - Didn't Stop Them In The Past
While it is true that keeping fans entertained year-round is a difficult task, this wasn’t a problem for them in the past. Looking back at the WWE through previous eras and the times they struggle with now, the fall season used to be where they had some of their most entertaining angles and drew big ratings.
On September 28th, 1998, Austin ruined the championship presentation for Kane and The Undertaker, when he drove a Zamboni to attack Vince McMahon through an army of police officers which got a 4.86 rating.
In another situation, on September 30th, 2002, Raw was headlined by a Triple H fighting Bubba Ray Dudley for the World Title and Kane beating Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Championship which garnered a 3.6.
Even two years ago, in the midst of this TV decline, Raw got a 2.83 after starting with a Triple Threat Intercontinental Championship Match, more antics between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, and The Authority standing tall over John Cena and Ambrose.
All of these Raw episodes occurred during football season and each one is astronomically higher than Raw’s ratings today.
8 Don't Matter - The WWE Network
Another big factor in discussing the ratings is the existence of the WWE network. While it doesn’t allow for immediate access to previous episodes of Raw or SmackDown, it is home to a lot of other wrestling content from various promotions over the years.
Assuming an episode of Raw isn’t captivating enough for you that week and you have no interest in other sports, WWE Network subscribers would have access to wrestling content that they have the power over. Rather than watching a rematch followed by a commercial, a subscriber can go to the network and watch anything from wrestling shows to documentaries. It may not seem like as big of a deterrent, but if even half of the WWE’s 1.5 million subscribers practice this trend when Raw is boring them, that can attest for a big loss in viewership.
7 Matter - Not Everyone Has The Network
It’s quite possible that fans will tune out and watch other wrestling content via the WWE Network or possibly even other streaming services, like the ones provided by Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, the simple fact is that not even half of their television audience has the WWE network.
As stated previously, the WWE Network subscribers are approximately 1.5 million people. This makes for a nice amount of money for the WWE to pull in, averaging out around $15 million per month, but their total audience in the past few years has been proven to reach up to five million people; especially around WrestleMania season. So the odds of their television audience switching to the WWE Network instead of their television shows is a lot less likely.
6 Don't Matter - DVR Numbers
While the ratings of the WWE aren’t all that good now, the ratings are only looked at from a live broadcast standpoint. The use of DVRs for recording shows has been crucial for ratings websites to determine increased viewership and improved ratings.
When looking at the reports for shows like How to Get Away with Murder and Blacklist, the DVR numbers help to bolster their TV viewership greatly and improve their overall ratings. Plus, those shows aren’t a never-ending show like Raw and they aren’t available as much as both Raw and SmackDown are.
Even if the DVR numbers are just 200,000 viewers, that’s enough to boost Raw ratings and viewership to at least three million most of the time. Just because they aren’t watching live, doesn’t mean they won’t watch later.
5 Matter - Live Viewership Shows Importance
While it is true that DVR numbers could greatly improve the WWE's ratings, the fact remains that most people still watch TV live for their favorite shows.
When football and basketball fans know their favorite team is playing their rivals, they make sure to watch that game unless they just can’t make it. The same can be said for TV shows like The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory, as they amass massive numbers on a weekly basis without looking into DVR numbers because their fan base has a strong enough desire to see their show live when it airs.
Raw is far from must-see television anymore because storylines don’t really advance anymore or evolve from week to week. Maybe more people are watching it later, but that’s a telling sign of how they regard the flagship show of the WWE.
4 Don't Matter - Ratings Don't Always Mean Quality Shows
Ratings are a relatively good way to show whether people are interested in a show. After all, it’s simple logic that people will watch whatever show they think is good. However, sometimes the ratings don’t truly reflect the quality of the show.
Raw has been getting low numbers for a while, but some episodes of Raw were widely hailed as good despite the ratings dip. A perfect example would be the New Era episode of Raw which saw Roman Reigns and the newly debuting star Finn Bálor fighting for a chance at the Universal Championship. That episode only got a 2.36 rating; which is lower than the 2.44 that the Money in the Bank Fall-out episode got which featured Dean Ambrose showing up as the World Champion.
Both shows were considered good, but the New Era episode didn’t generate the numbers that the other Raw did. In fact, if you asked fans which episode they enjoyed more, you’d probably hear a bunch of different answers, but that wouldn’t be reflected in the numbers.
3 Matter - The Show Isn't Good
It’s true that the show’s rating isn’t always an indicator of the quality of the program, but the simple fact remains that most fans don’t feel much excitement or are interested in Monday Night Raw.
Since the Brand Split, the problems that existed before the brand extension still haven’t been corrected; they’ve actually worsened. The pointless mid-card matches with no story have increased, with the inclusion of squash matches with local wrestlers. The lack of build or progression for feuds still rings true as Rusev and Reigns are set to fight in Hell in A Cell despite only wrestling regular singles matches against each other until this point.
The only area where they’ve actually managed to improve is their treatment of the women’s wrestlers, but even that is marred by the lack of storylines. If the only thing the WWE managed to change was the placement of the women, then it’s clear they’re too stuck in their ways to make genuine attempts at improving their viewership.
2 Don't Matter - TV Deal Is Safe
While most shows with disappointing numbers are in jeopardy of getting cancelled or bargaining for TV deals elsewhere, the WWE isn’t in that type of situation.
Despite their low numbers, the WWE typically brings in a decent number of viewers and occasionally ranks as the number one show on television; football and basketball season aside. This is especially true during WrestleMania season when their audience reaches more than four million people and sometimes more.
With all this in mind, the USA network isn’t likely to cut Raw or SmackDown when the only other shows they have going for them are Suits, Mr. Robot, and Law and Order reruns. Even if that were to be excluded, the fact remains that the USA Network has Raw under contract until 2019. Which means even if it is a bad year for them, they can potentially recover through better writing, scripts, and in-ring action.
1 Matter - What Will Raw Look Like In 2019?
It’s true that the WWE probably won’t have to worry about any major contract negotiations for another three years, but what will become of them by then?
When discussing wrestling with fans who said they don’t watch it as often or they dislike the current product, a lot of them claim that they continue to follow it because they hope the show will improve. This is the sign of a true fan who supports something even through hard times, but how long will it be before the dedicated fans give up?
Wrestling’s core audience at the moment seems to be around the two to three million mark, but even those fans have started leaving. For the past four weeks, the WWE has yet to break three million viewers when up against other competition; indicating that some of the fans are either watching other programming or losing all interest in the product.
Even the people who have been hoping for the company to improve have started to turn away or change the channel and that doesn’t bode well for the WWE. They may not have to worry about low ratings this year, but God help them should this decline have worsened by 2019.
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