To say that is general consensus amongst the internet wrestling community is against the current PG friendly product that WWE is producing is an understatement. Whether it be the physiotherapist cleaning up the slightest bit of blood or the Hanna Montana style “comedy”, internet fans will take to Twitter, Facebook or their blog (ahem) in droves to express their displeasure at the current product. Regardless of this fact, they will keep watching WWE, because they love it and can find enjoyment even through times were they feel frustrated as fans. The same, however, cannot be said for the casual fan – the fans that will watch while channel hopping. How often have we read reports of a certain segment of WWE Raw resulting in sever hundred thousand views tuning out? Several, hundred, thousand. That is a lot of viewership to throw away. And the numbers do not lie – In September 1999 the (then) WWF had its most watched Raw of all time with a Nielsen rating of 8.4 compared to its lowest rating of 2.39 this January. What this means is that during the much fabled ‘attitude era’, WWE at one point had 8.4% of American households watching compared to 2.39% of them in the very recent ‘PG era’ months. So, with all this in mind I want to stress that I too feel that WWE has got it wrong with their PG product, but not because of any of the above. My reason is that I am worried about the future of the business.
There are 2 common explanations to why the WWE has switched to a PG-friendly product.
- The Chris Benoit incident and the fallout of this.
- Aiming the product at children will bring in more money as they are more likely to buy merchandise, toys and games.
Now the first point is self explanatory, but did the second point begs the question – What happens when the kids grow up? If the product is solely aimed at children then what happens when they grow up? With so much television and entertainment mediums available to teenagers, will they really find 5+ hours per week to watch something they no longer see as “cool”? How many programmes, musicians or films were aimed at you when you were a kid do you still follow? To draw comparisons to my own childhood, I used to love both Power Rangers and Football. Power Rangers was aimed at me when I was young and I couldn’t get enough of it. I bought the costume, toys, videos (VHS. Remember those?) etc because I loved it. However after a while this wore off and I grew out of power rangers. I am aware that they kept reinventing the power rangers, for example dino thunder/ jungle fury/ on holiday/ going for a swim (I may have made some of them up) to attract new fans but even amongst kids, they got less and less viewers. Now on the other hand with football, I am very much still a fan and was one of the 715 million people to watch the 2010 world cup final. I will buy the sports TV package to watch football, go to Newcastle United games and even buy the replica shirt. Football differed from Power Rangers in its appeal to me when I was young. Where Power Rangers was aimed at a pre-teen me, football wasn’t. Football was presented as what it was, and put together as a package that appealed to a very important person in this blog – my dad. I used to watch the football with my dad, the same way my friends would watch the football with their dads. My dad supported Newcastle, so I supported Newcastle. So, to bring this back to wrestling I can completely understand the WWE wanting to ensure that children watch their product. After all, they are the future. However, much like power rangers, I feel WWE will have to constantly make new fans if they continue to make their product solely for children.
What makes the current direction of the WWE product even more baffling is a fact I have taken from market research conducted by WWE themselves in 2009 and 2011, to find out who watches their product (information that is made available to companies who potentially want to sponsor WWE). In 2011 WWE found that 48% of fans are aged 18-49, 30% are aged 50+ and 22% are aged under 18 (with 15% aged 12-17). A quick bit of maths will tell us that only 7% of fans are under 12 years old, so you have a very small % of the WWE fan base that falls into the PG bracket of TV classification. WWE already has a large volume (78%) of adult fans watching their show, but this will not last forever. Once the adult fans start to diminish, unless the young fans turn into adult fans, the numbers will continue their downwards trend. This is backed up by the fact that in 2009 WWE had 67% of fans aged 18-49, compared to just 48% now.
So, how do the WWE reverse this downwards trend? In a nutshell I feel that WWE have to put their focus on transitioning their young fans into adult fans, and can only do this by aiming their product at the older members of the young fan’s family, whether that be the dad or older brother. Kids love to feel more grown up than they are, so by presenting a more mature product you are providing this opportunity, a bit like watching a 15-rated movie when you weren’t old enough. WWE needs to aim its products at kids, by not presenting a kids product. They need to take a more subtle tact.
This isn’t another cry to bring back the attitude era – the attitude era has been and gone, but that doesn’t mean they have to stick with the PG era. Keep the in ring style as it is, with all the current restrictions (on some high risk moves, unprotected chair shots, etc) and avoid any distasteful storylines. But just because we can agree that wrapping a chair around Mick Foleys head while he is handcuffed and Triple H wearing Kane’s mask pretending to have sexual intercourse with a dead body is not what fans want to see, doesn’t mean that WWE must go in the complete opposite direction. Supple changes will do the job. An injection if adult humour, the odd swear word and some mature, complex characters. Maybe it could be suggested (again) that WWE take a look at what companies like the UFC are doing to attract a more mature fan base. There is no ‘quick win’ for this, but something needs to change.
There are counter arguments that in today’s world of political correctness, WWE could risk losing big sponsorship, or at worst TV deals, if they reverted to a more risqué product but let’s be honest – if their viewership increases, they will be able to command big advertising/licensing fees regardless. Another factor is the stigma that “wrestling is fake therefore not cool”. WWE created this stigma and, with enough hard work, could easily get rid of it much like the NWO did for a spell in 1997 and 1998. Yes there would be some drawbacks from changing the PG ethos but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Instead of dumping “Lil Jimmy” when he ‘grows out of’ the product, why not offer him a reason to stick around? Maybe Lil Jimmy will influence his younger siblings, Lil Jenny and Lil Jonny, to start watching and who knows, perhaps one day Lil Jimmy, Jenny and Jonny will have their own kids who will sit down and watch wrestling as 3 different families.
The company needs to evolve. Without evolution, everything dies. Aim for the kids, via somebody they look up to.
Thanks for reading – I would love to hear your views. Maybe you absolutely LOVE the PG era and disagree completely. Drop me a line @CallingSpots
Until then – Peace out.