WWE TV deals: Raw looks to be staying, while SmackDown Live is reportedly on the move
USA Network is planning to keep Raw but wants WWE to shop SmackDown elsewhere
With television rights for live sports and entertainment in a boom period, it had long been reported that WWE planned to cash in when its contract with NBCUniversal, which presently airs both Raw on Monday nights and SmackDown Live on Tuesday nights, expires in 2019.
If reports from Wednesday night are to be believed, WWE is in the process of doing just that, though its two major brands are not expected to remain under the same TV umbrella.
USA Network, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is reportedly prepared to keep Raw as one of its flagship shows and do so by paying WWE close to "as much as three times its current value," according to The Hollywood Reporter. However, in order to make that financial commitment, USA is expected to allow WWE to shop SmackDown Live to other networks in order to defray the inflated expense of airing WWE's signature Monday night show.
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It has long been speculated that FOX is interested in getting into the WWE business, and SmackDown may well find its way to the network. Prior reports had FOX interested in airing both programs with a plan to put Raw on its broadcast network on Monday nights while adding SmackDown to Fox Sports 1 on Tuesdays. It is unknown what FOX's plan would be if it only acquires SmackDown as it has a number of other networks that could potentially air the programming, though it could also make a play for WWE developmental brand NXT, which airs a one-hour show Wednesday nights on the WWE Network.
"From our end, [we don't think] it's an issue to split it," said WWE chief financial officer George Barrios earlier this week when asked about the shows airing on differrent networks. "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 ...
"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."
FS1 host Colin Cowherd, a longtime WWE detractor, joined some of the company's executives at SmackDown on Feb. 27 when the show was out in Los Angeles. Most believed their visit was to view the product live and discuss potential TV plans, though there have also been rumors that FOX has at least considered attempting to buy WWE from owner Vince McMahon. FOX is the current home of the UFC, which is also looking to renew its TV rights and just signed a streaming deal with ESPN+. It also airs NFL, MLB, soccer, U.S. Open golf, NASCAR and other sports.
WWE plans to announce its new TV deal(s) at some point between now and September.
Raw debuted on USA Network on Jan. 11, 1993, and ran weekly until leaving in September 2000 for TNN, which later became Spike TV. After five years away from USA, Raw moved back on Oct. 3, 2005, and has aired there ever since. While the show has remained on Monday nights, it started as an hour-long program before moving to two hours and now three hours, airing from 8-11 p.m. ET.
SmackDown has never had a permanent TV home nor a permanent airing date, though it has always been a two-hour show. It debuted on UPN on April 29, 1999, and remained there until it moved to The CW in September 2006. It then switched over to MyNetworkTV in October 2008 before NBCUniversal grabbed it for its rebranded Syfy network in October 2010. SmackDown has only aired on USA for about two years, moving over on Jan. 7, 2016. The show has taken a number of incarnations over the year, airing taped or live during different phases and switching between Thursday, Friday and Tuesday nights. The program currently airs live every Tuesday from 8-10 p.m.
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