WWE TV deals: SmackDown will reportedly air on Fox, move to Friday beginning in 2019
There will be a massive shakeup to WWE's TV programming in the fall of 2019
Although it has been 20 years since WWE faced legitimate opposition from a competing
professional wrestling sports entertainment company, a move made Monday may have signaled the start of an in-house ratings war between its two biggest brands.
Less than one week after The Hollywood Reporter broke news that NBCUniversal declined its first right of refusal for SmackDown Live in order to focus resources on re-signing a deal to broadcast Raw reported Monday that the blue brand also has a new home.ESPN's Darren Rovell
Following an offer described by sources as "massive," SmackDown will move to Fox starting in October of 2019 at the end of WWE's current contract with NBCU's USA Network. Additionally, The Wrap reports that the show will move back to Friday nights and remain a two-hour broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. ET, although there has been no word as to whether the show will air live or return to a tape-delayed format as it did previously when aired on Fridays.
The new deal is reportedly for five years at a total of more than $1 billion, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which calls the figure "a three-fold increase" over what WWE currently makes for SmackDown from NBCU. The outlet also notes that WWE "had an even higher bid from a third party" that it turned down due to the massive financial and marketing commitment made by Fox.
While Raw has been broadcast on the USA Network since 2005 (and originally from 1993 to 2000 before jumping to TNN/Spike TV), SmackDown is leaving the NBCU banner for the first time since 2010, which could lead to genuine competition between networks in terms of both ratings and the way WWE distributes talent between both shows.
Although SmackDown has long been seen as the "B show" in comparison to the flagship Raw, the blue brand has still averaged 2.59 million viewers per episode in 2018. Raw has averaged about three million per show over the same time period.
One of the issues in SmackDown never reaching the level of popularity compared to Raw has been how often it has switched both nights and networks. Since it's 1999 debut on UPN, the show has floated between Thursday, Friday and now Tuesday nights, including runs on The CW, MyNetwork TV and Syfy. It has aired both as a live and tape-delayed show.
In July 2016, following WWE's first brand split in five years, SmackDown moved from its tape-delayed Thursday slot to its current format of being a live show on Tuesday nights.
The likelihood for competition between brands only increases when one considers that SmackDown moves to network television on Fox, as opposed to a smaller cable home like FS1, which was rumored to be the case had Fox been able to secure rights to both shows.
WWE has never run one of its weekly non-syndicated TV properties on one of the "big four" broadcast networks, though it has previously aired specials, such as Saturday Night's Main Event, on NBC.
Fox was also rumored to have been interested in buying WWE outright from chairman Vince McMahon with the company making headlines when FS1 television host Colin Cowherd, long a pro wrestling detractor, posted pictures on social media of a backstage visit to SmackDown in February.
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