The Internet Wrestling Community is known for micro-analyzing ratings down to the minute. I believe this is a leftover from the Monday Night Wars, when commentators would look to see whether or not Nitro beat Raw, and what segment was the deciding factor.
I want to turn our focus this week to wrestling commentators. My goal is to encourage my fellow authors to stop using ratings as the primary factor when comparing professional wrestling companies and products, mainly TNA and WWE.
Since both Spike and USA air on cable, not every household will be able to view the shows. Yes, there are still people in this country without USA or Spike. It’s less frequent now than ten years ago, but there are people out there without those channels. Furthermore, you have to consider the number of people who may have these channels blocked with a V-Chip. While not really a problem for USA, this is a huge problem for Spike because of programming like The Shield. I love The Shield, but you better believe that show will be blocked in homes with a V-Chip, and you could also argue the number of homes who avoid programming they can’t view, may also avoid the channel altogether.
The Nielsen ratings is the most popular tool to gauge who watches what. But the ratings are based on the viewing habits of a select group of people who have meters attached to their television, and those who write in a diary to log what channels they watch. The ratings do not include college dorm rooms, and this is a major share of the professional wrestling audience. The ratings can be manipulated by some dishonest people who take it upon themselves to misreport what they’re viewing instead of logging what they actually saw, in an effort to influence what shows are picked up, and what shows are axed.
However, Nielsen remains the most popular system for advertisers to choose what program to support. The shows with the advertising dollars are the shows the networks want to keep around. WWE scores between a 2 and a 4.0 these days with their programming. TNA barely gets above a 1.0. But before we get into whether that makes WWE a better product, consider this: The top rated show for the week of July 31 on cable was Hannah Montana, which pulled in a 7, according to USA Today’s Nielsen section, and there are many shows that fall well below the ratings for TNA.
You should also consider the amount of promotion WWE Raw gets compared to TNA Impact! I have never seen an advertisement for Impact! on Spike. I’m not saying there aren’t any, I did see the promo for Rhyno’s ECW segment online, but I have yet to see one on TV. WWE Raw gets featured in all major USA Network packages when they highlight their shows, and there is an ad featuring Triple H and Anthony Michael Hall from The Dead Zone that runs during its own episodes. I also saw ads for Raw at random times during the day on USA.
WWE is a global entertainment company yielding millions of dollars a year in revenue, some of which doesn’t come from actual wrestling events. TNA is filmed in Orlando – tourist hell hole of the United States – and does not charge for tickets nor report their operating budget. WWE has to report because they are a publicly traded company.
TNA is a limited liability corporation formed by the Jarretts and Panda Energy (the LLC’s investors). WWE Raw airs during prime time on Monday nights, TNA airs at 11pm on Thursdays when most people are getting ready for work the next day. WWE has been in operation for many years, TNA just turned four years old, and this is the first year they started to move away from the NWA, just like WWF and WCW did before they got big.
It is easy to make snide comments and totally discount a product like TNA because it draws a 1.0 or a 0.2. But look at it like this: Spike and other Viacom channels are hard on which to promote anything. Just look at the graveyard of shows left behind by Spike, MTV, and Comedy Central. When you consider the poor time slot, and the lack of promotion, you have to consider what kind of shot TNA really has when it is competing with Raw.
TNA’s Internet presence is very strong. WWE is very strict when it comes to the Internet. I’m convinced they only have a website because Vince McMahon is not allowed near the new media department. TNA is everywhere. If you go to YouTube, you can watch free TNA videos. You go to Myspace and they have a major profile for the company, and tons of official profiles for the wrestlers. The number of new fans exposed to TNA wrestling, based on their YouTube and Myspace presence alone, is enormous.
Today, networks do more than buy television shows to sell advertising. They buy brands they can market and exploit on a variety of levels. Ratings are no longer the only factor in a show’s success. In a hostile economy, Spike took a risk on a professional wrestling show, which are often viewed unfavorably by ignorant television critics and advertisers. Spike did this during a time of rebranding their station to appeal to everyone, not just men. There have also been (unconfirmed) reports of Spike’s involvement with the business operations of TNA, specifically in terms of which wrestlers are being signed. I believe there is evidence to show a commitment on their part to make TNA successful.
TNA will succeed. I’m not saying the show is perfect – I need to see Jeff Jarrett dominating the world title scene like I need a head wound – but an emerging product in the shadow of a successful corporation such as WWE needs time and fair reporting.
I grew up watching WCW World Wide on CBS at midnight (and sometimes later). I never thought WCW was going to challenge WWE for the top spot in sports entertainment. Did you?
During the time WCW developed, plenty of people bashed them and said they would never make it. Not only did they make it, they changed the wrestling business. They just needed time.
If you went by WCW World Wide’s ratings, some may have never thought they would get so far.