The WWE reinitiated the brand extension concept this past July after USA Network executives complained about poor SmackDown ratings to WWE officials. The blue brand had clearly become second fiddle to the company's flagship show, Monday Night RAW, running on tape delay with no real significant or noteworthy storyline progression.
Vince McMahon, WWE officials, and USA Network execs seemed content with RAW's weekly performance, but in order to keep SmackDown afloat, a change had to be made. That change came in the form of the WWE splitting up their roster once again, conducting a draft, and dividing RAW and SmackDown into two unique and separate shows. SmackDown, of course, also changed from Fridays to Tuesdays, produced under the tried and true live format.
Whether the five months since the execution have been a success is debatable. The WWE has created new championships, new opportunities, and promoted new stars. However, SmackDown ratings, though up, are not on the same level as RAW, which had been a goal. Many critics have blamed the WWE for content overload, especially on pay-per-view weeks.
Still, USA touted their success as the number one ad-supported cable network in total viewers for the 11th consecutive year. And in their press release, they were sure to include WWE programming as a major part of it.
"Driven by hit new and returning series including COLONY, QUEEN OF THE SOUTH, SHOOTER, MR. ROBOT, SUITS and CHRISLEY KNOWS BEST and two nights per week of live action with WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW and WWE SMACKDOWN LIVE, USA delivered an average of 1.68MM total viewers P2+ for the year...
HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2016 INCLUDE:
· USA was the #1 cable entertainment network on Monday nights with P18-49 and P2+, with the three-hour live WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW garnering an average of 3.7MM total viewers P2+.
· Since moving to Tuesday nights in July, WWE SMACKDOWN LIVE saw double-digit increases: +25% P18-49 and +12% P2+, helping USA rank as the #1 cable entertainment network in its timeslot in those demos. Versus year-ago ratings, SMACKDOWN is up +46% among P18-49 and +17% among P2+."
USA might view the brand split as an improvement, but WWE officials are concerned with one major aspect of their own business model. According to Cageside Seats, there has not been significant interest in brand-exclusive pay-per-views since the extension, which may force the WWE to reconsider how the shows are presented.
Because most people watch the pay-per-views via the WWE Network, the company measures that interest in internet searches and social media scores. Those rankings have been low for brand-exclusive shows including recent productions like TLC and Roadblock: End of the Line.
Because of the poor performances online, the WWE is now considering doing away with brand-exclusive pay-per-views in 2017. They've already discussed decreasing the total number of pay-per-views for next year as it is, but this would add an entirely new wrinkle. It would be the same methodology the WWE used the last time a true brand split was integrated, ultimately resulting in superstars appearing on both brands and dissolving the split altogether.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the extension would go away, but it likely means less of those opportunities we mentioned in the beginning of the article. Many wrestlers touted those fresh opportunities when the WWE announced their plans because of the smaller roster sizes. But if brand-exclusive pay-per-views went away, then only the top programs from RAW and SmackDown would be featured on the special events.
As far as the USA Network is concerned, as long as the WWE continues to fill five hours of their programming schedule each week with sufficient ratings, they won't care how it's done. But considering that the company is already considering reverting back less than six months into the split is a clear indication that something needs to change.
[Featured Image by WWE]