Saturday, February 21, 2009

New format for WWE TV-More Sizzle, Less Steak.

Have you noticed it? Well, have you? Watching and recapping Monday Night RAW and ECW (Yours truly provides real-time recaps of both shows over at World Wrestling Insanity for my good friend Sir James Guttman), I've been noticing that the WWE seems to be providing a little bit more sizzle and a lot less steak over on its flagship show (RAW) as well as its showcase for new talent show (ECW.

As longtime wrestling fans know, TV shows used to be home to squash matches which featured star talent showcasing their skills against enhancement talent which never stood a prayer of winning a match. These shows served the purpose of luring fans to the house shows (and later on, pay-per-view with the underlying assumption that why would fans pay to go see a house show if the big matches were shown for free on TV.

Eventually, Eric Bischoff began giving away big name matches every week on Monday Night Nitro in order to beat his WWF competitors over on RAW. Bischoff proved that fans were still willing to pay to see their favorite stars at house shows and on PPV despite the fact that they could see them wrestle the same matches on weekly TV

While Bischoff was by no means the first to feature true main events on weekly shows (Bill Watts' often aired matches between his top stars on his Mid South Wrestling show as well as some other promotions), Bischoff was the first to do so on a regular basis. Later on, the WWF would do the same in order to help RAW compete against Nitro.

Unfortunately, the success of shows like Nitro and RAW led to an abundance of free wrestling on TV. Fans who were once thrilled to get two or three hours of regular wrestling were now beseiged by hours of wrestling throughout the week. Even after the demise of WCW and the original ECW, fans are still able to watch over seven hours of wrestling on prime-time television (just counting WWE and TNA).

In order to fill these hours, the WWE has unwisely given away a lot of big matches to the point where there's a lot less incentive to order a PPV. Barring the Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell, there are very few match-ups shown on PPV that haven't been available on free TV (I'm still shocked that the WWE has put ladder matches on free TV). Even worse, the WWE has made the ill-advised decision to feature top stars wrestling each other ad naseaum on TV, let alone PPV. No matter how good (or bad) the matches are, there are only so many times a fan wants to see Shawn Michaels wrestle Chris Jericho or the Undertaker battle Batista.

At the risk of sounding like Grandpa Old School, I can remember the days when big matches often took months to happen and main events like Hogan vs. Andre were repeated nearly a year after they happened. Nowadays, the WWE routinely airs matches on PPV and rematches the following night on RAW (Shane McMahon vs. Randy Orton being the most recent example). No matter what your rationale for doing this, it's hard to imagine people being compelled to order a PPV when the matches happen again on free TV.

Recently, the WWE has really trimmed back not only the number of matches on its shows but the star power of its matches. Recent editions of RAW have featured five, maybe six matches over a two hour show with many of the matches running short. Instead of matches, RAW has focused more on angles and interviews (to get the angles over).

While conventional wisdom might say that the fans won't put up with this (of course, conventional wisdom also held that fans would never pay for matches they could see for free on TV), the ratings have shown otherwise. RAW has been enjoying some of its highest ratings in years despite it scaling back its matches. One might argue that this is due to the WWE focusing on quality rather than quantity. Every match, angle, and interview means a lot more now so while there aren't as many matches, the fans are so entertained that they really don't mind.

All of this comes back to the argument of whether or not there is some advantage to making PPV's a special attraction where you see stuff you can't see on free TV. The real pay-off (besides better ratings) will be whether or not more fans tune in to PPV. If PPV's become something special again (with the idea being that you order them so you can see the big money matches), the WWE may see an increase in buys as more viewers feel inclined to order the show. At the very least, the people who do order PPV's will feel like they're getting more bang for their buck, a sentiment that you always want the customer to feel.

Your thoughts?

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