In a significant shift for professional wrestling broadcasting, "WWE SmackDown" is slated to depart Fox and return to its previous home, the USA Network. This development, part of a five-year agreement with NBCUniversal, was officially revealed last Thursday.
On his "Strictly Business" podcast, Eric Bischoff, the former Senior Vice President of WCW and an industry veteran, shed light on this transition. He recalled the buzz around the corridors of WWE when "SmackDown" first aired on Fox.
The behind-the-scenes chatter centered around expectations of an astonishing 5-6 million weekly viewers. However, the reality proved to be a tad less rosy. "The premiere fetched around 3.8 or 3.9 million views. While commendable, it still fell short of the internal benchmarks," Bischoff commented.
As weeks turned into months, "SmackDown" witnessed a significant viewer drop, losing approximately 30-40% of its initial audience. Bischoff attributed this shortfall to the massive expectations WWE and Fox set for themselves.
"The expectation-to-delivery gap was evident. While WWE SmackDown performed well for Fox on Friday nights, it did not resonate as strongly as anticipated," he remarked.
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Although airing weekly wrestling on a major network like Fox was pioneering, the endeavor was challenging.
Despite robust promotion efforts, the show couldn't consistently pull in the desired viewer numbers. Bischoff pointed out the oversight in financial and viewership expectations during the initial deal-making, suggesting both entities might have overestimated each other's capacities.
Yet, the shifting sands of the broadcasting landscape in the recent half-decade cannot be ignored. "The data employed during negotiations seemed fitting around 2017-2018. However, with streaming platforms emerging dominant, the television industry landscape in 2023 is vastly different," Bischoff observed.
Despite the hurdles, the conversation around extending "SmackDown's" tenure on Fox persisted. But Bischoff was forthright in his assessment: "While the show was a success, it perhaps did not bring the level of success Fox envisioned, given the investment." Speculating on Fox's future association with wrestling, Bischoff opined that the network might be hesitant to gamble on other wrestling programs after their experience with WWE.
He elaborated, "WWE is the pinnacle. If Fox couldn't optimize their partnership with WWE, it's unlikely they'll venture elsewhere in the wrestling world." Lastly, Bischoff hinted at "SmackDown" possibly stretching to a three-hour slot, mirroring "WWE Raw" on the USA Network. The official move for "SmackDown" to the USA Network is set for October 2024.
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