Examining The Impact Of WWE’s YouTube Success On Their TV Ratings

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Several months back, I found myself starting to wonder about WWE‘s YouTube channel as WWE was getting a lot of press for just how successful it is. By most metrics, it’s among the top channels on the service:

It’s clearly a success by YouTube standards, and it’s noticeable even just looking at the numbers for the individual videos. The main event level segments from Raw usually top 1 million views within a few days. As I write this, he edited version of the previous night’s SmackDown main event is closing in on 400,000 viewers after just 16 hours. The edited Daniel Bryan retirement speech, while an anomaly to a point for obvious reasons, is nearing 2.5 million views after less than four full days.

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Of course, Raw ratings have been in a freefall over the past year-plus, so I got to thinking: While there are certainly other issues at play, could this be a big factor in the ratings decline? I tabled it for a while, but that sentiment grew in me after WWE dropped their 2015 annual report yesterday. In conjunction with the report, they put together an infographic, and the YouTube part piqued my interest:

And those 8 billon views for 2015? They doubled the 2014 mark, and that increase comes with two noticeable changes:

  1. I don’t recall when exactly this was, but I believe it was in the past year or so that WWE sped up the uploading schedule of the video clips from their TV shows. Raw clips, for example, now go up as the live show is going on with a pretty short delay (especially considering the editing being done). Before, they went up at irregular times between early Tuesday morning and early Tuesday afternoon.
  2. WWE scaled back on some of their original content during 2015, like ending The JBL & Renee Show (formerly the JBL & Cole Show). While there’s still compelling original content, like “5 Things” and “This Week in WWE History,” the comedic destination programming is gone.

While one theoretical draw is gone, they’ve made it much easier to consume an edited version of the weekly TV shows, and that appears to have been one reason for the huge increase in views year over year. Which is where this really starts to get interesting.

WWE programming tends to skew pretty old in that the average viewer is a middle aged man…the type more likely to consume Raw in “traditional” ways, watching on cable/satellite TV during the live broadcast or maybe later on their DVR. But more and more, young people (think kids, tweens, and teenagers, as well as cord-cutting young adults) are consuming most of their content online, often primarily from YouTube only. That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?

Which isn’t to say that it’s the only reason: The company is in a rut creatively, of course. On top of that, Raw is a slog at three hours except for the very best episodes, which, as I alluded to, we haven’t seen as of late. So a large chunk of the audience may be closely following along, but only checking out the most interesting looking YouTube clips so as to not go through the three hour mixed bag that is Monday Night Raw in 2016.

As the YouTube numbers keep going up, though, it’s hard to look at the situation as if it can’t be a major factor in the ratings going down. On the surface, it’s not a big deal, but YouTube ads are much less lucrative than traditional TV and there’s always the risk of angering NBC Universal, who gets nothing from the YouTube channel. The Hulu deal is through NBC Universal, who owns part of that service, but we have no idea how many people are watching WWE shows on there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egLks2yh4L4

Another potential factor is the change in how WWE does social media now. Last May, WWE dropped the WWE App’s second screen experience. Instead, all supplementary content was shifted to third party platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube of course, etc.) as well as WWE.com. As part of the change, they’ve dramatically increased the amount of video and animated GIFs on their Twitter accounts. If you were planning on watching Raw because you want to see New Day do a funny dance, it will probably show up in your Twitter feed, anyway. It’s probably not close to as big a factor as YouTube, but it should be in the conversation.

What does everyone else think? How has your WWE consumption changed in the last few years? Do you use the YouTube channel frequently? Please et us know in the comments.