WWE has been a solid provider of content for USA Network, along with syndicated UPN stations, for years. Since its flagship program WWE Raw went to High Definition television, it’s also seen ratings improvements from fans that eat up seeing their favorite performers’ body slam and atomic foes in pristine quality.
“It’s still about protagonists and antagonists,” says WWE CEO Vince McMahon. “HD has made our programs really popular.”
“It’s about the only 52-week, live, DVR-proof show going,” says Chris McCumber, the executive vice president of marketing for the company’s cable partner, USA Network. The Raw show is new every week of the year. Because of this, as well as the sports elements and live nature of the show, McCumber says it is less likely to be recorded on a digital video recorder and played back later, with the commercials skipped.
He went on to say that Raw was up 17 percent in total viewers on USA over the last year. Not only has the HD presentation helped the pro-wrestling giant, its racy/increasingly violent story-lines have probably boosted ratings as well.
“We were always PG on our Smackdown show,” said Vince McMahon. But the Raw show was quietly shifted to meet PG content standards starting about a year ago. “We’re about the only variety show on television,” Mr. McMahon said, pointing to the roster of guest starts on his shows this season, which have included Jeremy Piven of Entourage, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger; and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“We sell fun,” said McMahon.
But not everyone is so enamored with the WWE’s entertainment. Linda McMahon, wife of Vince McMahon and former WWE CEO, who is campaigning for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate race, has been taking heat from her association with a “scandalous” institution.
Colleen Flanagan, communications director for the Connecticut Democrats, last month issued a statement describing WWE programming as “steroid-fueled — filled with rape, necrophilia and public sex,” even though McMahon claims it has transitioned from TV-14 ratings to PG-rated status.
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