All Elite Wrestling (AEW) – the start-up promotion founded by Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks (and backed by Tony Khan, son of Jags owner Shahid Khan) – has announced a broadcast agreement with WarnerMedia. TNT will televise AEW’s live weekly show and B/R Live will be its exclusive digital streaming provider. AEW’s flagship show on TNT won’t begin until this fall (when it becomes the 1st weekly wrestling program to air on the network since WCW Monday Nitro in ’01), but the promotion’s inaugural PPV event ‘Double or Nothing’ is slated for Saturday night (May 25th). Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though it’s been reported (on the Mat Men podcast) that “TNT is covering the [show’s] production costs and splitting advertising revenue with AEW.”
Howie Long-Short: As Dave Meltzer noted in his ‘Wrestling Observer Newsletter’, a “network paying for the production costs of a wrestling show is incredibly unusual in a rights-fee deal.” Attribute AEW’s advantageous deal to timing. Live sports programming is particularly attractive in today’s on-demand environment and the explosion of OTT streaming services has created the need for more content. The result has been a seller’s market for rights holders.
WarnerMedia was willing to invest in production for AEW – when they weren’t for the Alliance of American Football – because pro wrestling is a safe play relative to a spring football league. Harvey Schiller, who was the President of Turner Sports during the WWE/WCW Monday night ratings wars, explained that “there are a large number of dedicated wrestling fans out there that can’t get enough ‘sports entertainment’. A new promotion is always going to have a core audience that will watch it, read about it, buy merchandise etc. Wrestling is less like other sports and more like a successful movie franchise, where fans are always waiting for the next iteration to come out.”
AEW will find success on TNT if the quality of their show is “competitive with what the other promotions are putting on. As long as they build the characters and develop the storylines, people will watch.” That was the formula that WCW relied on to surpass WWE in the Monday night ratings wars and Schiller believes that if AEW is to have a similar impact on the industry “they’ll need a Macho Man, a Hulk Hogan and a few of the other guys [Kevin Nash, Scott Hall].” Khan’s promotion won’t have the N.W.O., but with a stable that includes Rhodes, The Young Bucks, Adam “Hangman” Page, Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega (considered by many to be the best wrestler in the world) they’re off to a good start.
AEW isn’t the only wrestling outfit with a national platform that’s trying to take market share from WWE, but having a weekly showcase on TNT is a bit different than one on AXS TV (see: NJPW) or Pop TV (see: Impact Wrestling); “an established brand in cable has a certain drive to it – especially when there’s desirable programming leading in.” A prime-time slot on TNT is also very different than having content air on an OTT service (think: WWE Network). “When a show is on established cable viewers will find it just rolling through the channel lineup, when it’s on a streaming service viewers need to seek it out.”
Fan Marino: WarnerMedia did not disclose what night AEW’s weekly show would air, but it’s presumed to be Tuesdays; a night that WWE plans to vacate with SmackDown moving to Fridays. Schiller supports the idea of placing the show in SmackDown’s old timeslot, as opposed to initiating a 21st century ratings war. He said that a decision to go head-to-head with RAW or SmackDown! would be an “ego driven decision, not a revenue driven one. No matter what, when you’re up against a similar show you’re going to lose viewers; you’re not going to destroy WWE, that’s not going to happen.”
AEW isn’t going to destroy the WWE, but it’s going to do it’s best to stand out from them – promising fans “less scripted, soapy drama and more athleticism and real sports analytics.” Win-Loss records are going to become meaningful again, as will championship reigns. The promotion plans to crown its first world champion on Saturday night at ‘Double of Nothing’.
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