8/30 Barnett's Raw is Blog: Low ratings lead to an on air panic attack, and what does this mean for the future of WWE?

Posted in: Barnett's Blog, MUST-READ LISTING
Aug 30, 2011 - 01:07 PM

By Jake Barnett

Monday, August 30 – 1:07 P.M. (CT)

Raw is Blog: A 2.9 rating leads to a panic attack, and what it means for the future of the WWE

As Raw went off their air after two whirlwind hours last night, the realities of what I had just seen sunk in. What the hell was that? Did I really just see that show? Did last week’s rating really scare the WWE brass so much that they felt the need to hotshot so many major angles onto TV at once? Here’s what we know coming out of last night’s show.

  • The brand split is ostensibly over….for now.

  • WWE sees no benefit in keeping never before seen matches off Televison in order to sell them as PPV matches.

  • Triple H, despite taking on the role of an authority figure just over 30 days ago, will be competing in a match with the hottest wrestler in the company at Night of Champions.

  • CM Punk shook the entire WWE just a few months ago with a scintillating series of promos that called out just about everybody backstage for various amounts of ignorance and short sightedness, but now just feels like another guy on the show.

  • Kevin Nash went from not being an employee, to being an employee with a PPV match, to being an employee without a PPV match in less than 2 hours. Errrr….ok.

So, what does this all mean? Well, for one I think it means that the WWE is seeing the writing on the wall about what their short term and often stale booking has done to their product, and their panic response as always is to go to the talent well that is getting increasingly shallow as time has marched on.

There is no more Shawn Michaels. The Undertaker is now part time at best. Rey Mysterio’s knee is horribly damaged, surgery has him out for months, and eventually he will need to retire to get his knee replaced. The Rock has moved onto his movie career, and it is obvious that despite his Mania 28 match, he has no real interest in returning to WWE for more than one off appearances. And guys like Steve Austin and Chris Jericho have moved on to find happiness in other avenues of entertainment.

The bottom line is that the well is running dry, and the era of living on borrowed time in WWE is coming to an end. WWE needs to get behind new stars now, and stay behind them, even if it means short term losses in viewership. WWE’s obsession with ratings and short sighted booking has led them to continually abandon new talent and return to the old, despite increasingly diminished returns.

The Wrestling industry has proven more than once that all it takes is the right mix of personalities and stories to attract hordes of new people to the product. While criticizing WWE for the cronyism backstage, and the failure to realize the potential of its talent, C.M. Punk was able to strike a chord with both the online wrestling community and in popular culture. WWE responded by delivering one of the most exciting and unexpectedly good PPV’s I can remember at Money in the Bank, and yet just six weeks later it appears as if that ship is already headed towards in iceberg. The reason you might ask? The reason is that WWE has panicked, almost for no reason.

The Rock and Steve Austin returning several times earlier this year did not pop huge ratings, less than 10% above the average for the year. The 2011 WWE draft was the highest rated show of the year, just 18% over the yearly average. CM Punks rants, despite the attention from pop culture, did not create huge ratings spikes. Vince McMahon being deposed and replaced by Triple H did not create a ratings spike. Despite being hyped a week in advance, the conclusion to the WWE Title tournament did not spike ratings. I think you see where I’m going with this.

The truth is that Nielsen ratings are becoming more and more irrelevant all the time, and while it’s obvious that they still carry a lot of weight within the WWE and TV networks, they are a worthless number to most people who actually consume the WWE product. Only about 20,000 households in the US actually use a Nielsen box, and yet they are supposed to represent the viewing habits of 300+ million people.

Nielsen doesn’t account for people who watch the show later on Youtube, Hulu, or any other type of digital media consumption. Media fragmentation is a real phenomenon that WWE has to deal with. Anybody who claims to have their finger on the pulse of 21st Century media had to understand that basing your show content on ratings alone is a fool’s errand, because in no way does it accurately describe your audience.

If WWE is going to survive in its current form, it’s going to need to adapt to what media is in the 21st Century. DVR, Connected Television, and Internet Viewing have changed the way that people consume entertainment. If people are not entertained by something, the vast amount of choice in the entertainment marketplace has made it very easy to avoid bad television.

WWE has to move forward with new talent, new stories, and more culturally relevant characters. While it is nice to pay homage to legends, and even see them a few times a year as a special attraction, those stars are not the way forward for the WWE.

The fact that familiar faces and Superstars from a previous generation can no longer bring in big audiences is proof enough that WWE needs a new direction. They have been slowly turning in that direction for a year now, but it is time for a sea change. The first change needs to be a firm commitment to building new stars, and not just to be fed to existing ones. Secondly, a return to proper storytelling, and by that I mean clearly defined characters and long term story arcs, is absolutely necessary. Without those things, I fear WWE will find itself with a dry well and more and more parched fans looking for a new fountain.

Questions, Comments, or Concerns? Please feel free to contact me at or on twitter @barnettjake.

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