If you've ever been in the content game, you have to respect WWE's hustle.
Fightful has boxing, pro wrestling, MMA. Newsletters, a premium subscription site. Preview shows, review shows, interviews, special interviews, non-combat content. Recently, we've stepped into video gaming. We do our best to appeal to broad variety of viewers. Even if they don't like all of our stuff, maybe they'll like some of it.
Perhaps no other company is better than that than WWE.
WWE Raw -- a long form entertainment program. WWE Smackdown -- a more condensed version of that entertainment format. WWE NXT & 205 Live -- more wrestling centric, but rich in storytelling. The Mae Young Classic, UK Tournament and others attack certain demographics. But the in-ring content isn't really what impresses me. It's how WWE finds ways to monetize things that aren't what you'd expect them to, particularly on Youtube where they've become an unstoppable juggernaut.
Within a day of WWE posting a video of them constructing a Hell in a Cell structure, the video had almost a million views. Youtube ad rates certainly aren't what they used to be, but WWE took something they've done dozens of times before, painted the cage a different color, created buzz and a talking point for the next night's PPV and made a few thousand bucks along the way. Outside of maybe something they didn't want slipping through the audio feed, there was no down side to this. It was simple, yet beautiful from a business perspective -- nobody's seen it, so let's stream it. There was no "first ever, historical stream." No Stephanie McMahon appearance to put it over. They just ran a stream, and people showed up.
The shoot interview market used to be booming. Sites like the one you're reading surely caused it to take an unfortunate hit, but WWE has specialized this as well. There are shows like Story Time that require hiring an expensive animator (also, it's a direct rip of Urijah Faber's Street Fight Stories), but WWE Photo shoot is such an easy concept that conjures up memories and instigates topics without a huge production cost or planning. WWE has been able to turn showing people photos into some of their most compelling program, replacing host-driven shows like Stone Cold, Chris Jericho, Renee Young and JBL talk shows.
It's a complete estimate on my part, but the Youtube monetization of the Mae Young Classic videos from Bracketology, to the parade of champions to match clips likely pay off a huge chunk of what it took to bring in freelancers for the tournament. This wasn't a possibility 15 years ago. Couple that with the fact WWE is gaining downright obscene and long overdue rights fees, they're rolling in it.
I've been told by people within WWE that a huge Youtube hit can result in positive backstage chatter, and higher ups taking notice if they're aware. In a business that used to (for some reason) utilize quarter-hour Neilsen TV rating breakdowns, Youtube views aren't just a way to earn money, it's a way to find out which superstars, segments and happenings your audience or potential audience are going out of their way to see. On any given week, a 1 million view video is a pretty good indication of what has resonated well, or has captured the interest of your viewers -- or at the very least was the absolute shits to the degree that people had to see the train wreck over. Usually it's pretty easy to decipher aside from a few outliers.
But it's not just their own videos they're making money off of. Have you ever stumbled across a shitty quality clip from Raw from 20 years ago and wonder how it's still up on Youtube after being uploaded since 2012? That's WWE's copyrighted material, right? Right. As selectively protective as they are with their content, they aren't above making money. There's a good chance that video has already been flagged by WWE, they just allow it to stay up and rake in any advertising dollars it may gain. Savvy.
WWE and Xavier Woods' collaborative effort in gaming has been a giant hit, which I've been told has dragged in over seven figures in revenue since launching. They're still way down the list when it comes to other gamers in the space, but they're rapidly growing nonetheless, with no signs of slowing down.
Not to mention several superstars are getting additional paychecks from E! and USA Network for TV shows. Remember the days of seeing wrestlers in commercials? Chef Boyardee, 1-800-Collect. They're back. Cricket, Burger King, Snickers, Dollar General, Xfinity have all jumped on the bandwagon. It's not just the John Cenas of the world in these spots either. Guys like Mojo Rawley are reaping the benefits.
To say WWE was in a dark age for a lot of this stuff in the late 2000s is an understatement. They had no mainstream buzz and little acceptance, and quite frankly deserved it. They turned their flagship program into a vehicle for celebrities to come promote their projects for a year because they were so desperate for that attention and acceptance. Today WWE has celebrities coming to them, willing to show up backstage to play video games with Xavier Woods for an hour.
I'm often critical of WWE for "refusing to pivot" in crucial creative aspects of their program, but content monetization isn't one of them. Tout may have failed, but as things stands, WWE is the most powerful English-language Youtube channel in the world. Globally, they're only behind India-based "T Series." More than MLB, who post their "condensed games" daily in an effort to increase interest. More than NBA, which has exploded in popularity. WWE have reach rarified air, where six-year old clips of inconsequential battle royals and Tribute to the Troops matches hit unbelievable 80 million view marks. Top 10 compilation videos of in-ring proposals that can be produced in a day hit 60 million. It's content of content, and it's brilliant business.