WWE’s mission these past few years has been to turn itself into—as CFO George Barrios puts it—“a digital, social and direct-to-consumer powerhouse.” So, how’s it doing?
WWE Network is the 5th largest direct-to-consumer SVOD service in the US, averaging about 1.2 million subscribers last year.
It’s the #1 sports channel on YouTube. On Facebook, it has over a billion engagements.
And it’s the only provider offering 5 hours of live programming each week 52 weeks a year, with USA’s “Smackdown” moving to a live broadcast in July.
Barrios talked a bit about WWE’s strategy during UBS’ investor conference this week, and why social and digital have been so important—even when the monetization path wasn’t clear. WWE has said “money tends to follow eyeballs and time, and that’s starting to happen,” the exec said. “Our digital monetization today is significantly higher than it was 5 or 6 years ago.”
Direct-to-consumer WWE Network’s long-term goal is 3 to 4 million subscribers. While WWE has been an early entrant in the OTT space, that doesn’t mean it has all the answers. “I’m not sure how these ecosystems are going to develop. I don’t know how the value chain will change. I don’t know what players today will may be just focus on ad-supported, like YouTube, might go to subscription businesses for long-form content,” Barrios said. “But what I can control is having a really strong position on those three pillars so that as the ecosystem changes, I can control my own destiny.”
WWE’s position is that it can reach any broadband home in the world with any piece of video content it wants through traditional pay TV, direct-to-consumer and third party offerings. “That’s incredibly liberating,” Barrios said. His comments did make it sound as though “Monday Night Raw” and “Smackdown,” currently shown on USA, are likely to stay on cable TV . WWE will determine what this best option for them when the next renewal cycle comes up in 2019, but “I continue to believe that live content drawing a ton of eyeball should be pretty valuable in the bundle,” he said.