By Haydn Gleed
Let me make one thing clear from the start, this is not an end of TNA piece. The company has been described as the cockroach of pro wrestling on many occasions, but in my mind they are more than that. They are the villain in any bad horror movie where he gets stabbed, shot repeatedly, and then a stake through the heart grounds him. Just as the movie is about to end, the hand twitches and one eye opens, dun dun dun.
In all seriousness, since the news that the Challenge TV deal in the UK is about to end, all I’ve read and/or heard from people is that TNA is done for, they are losing a lucrative deal, etc, etc. I can’t disagree with the losing a lucrative deal part. After all, for a company with the known amount of debt that TNA possesses, any revenue stream is important, but I have a sneaking suspicion that as crazy as it sounds, TNA may have not been as disappointed with the end of the deal as it first may appear.
On Thursday, TNA released a press release to prowresting.net and other news outlets talking about Anthem and their new partnership and this little nugget of the press release caught my attention:
”Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corp. is a global sports media company that operates Fight Network, Impact Wrestling’s exclusive broadcaster in Canada, as well as the exclusive worldwide digital streaming partner for all TNA programming.”
The first thought that crossed my mind is it’s almost impossible to watch any TNA content in the UK before the Sunday showing of the latest episode of Impact. When I’ve tried to watch the exploits of Broken Matt Hardy and his family the day after the U.S. airing, I’ve found the official YouTube channels or other official streaming methods the UK are blocked. The obvious reason for that? Challenge TV is the only channel to have official rights for TNA in the UK. During the lead up to the court case with a certain pumpkin smasher, there was suspicion that Anthem/Fight Network were keen on the idea of beefing up their online streaming service. Could the end of the deal with Challenge TV be seen by TNA/Anthem management as a plus in that it allows them to feature TNA on their online streaming platform and make the UK fans pay for the privilege of viewing it?
Of course, TNA could try and find a new home in the UK (if they haven’t done so already). After all, Challenge TV wasn’t exactly the perfect fit for a professional wrestling company. For those who don’t know, Challenge TV is where gameshows from the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s go for that one last hurrah before they are (thankfully in some cases) placed away in some underground vault with a big DO NOT WATCH EVER AGAIN sticker pasted across it. OK, I might be exaggerating there slightly, but nevertheless Challenge TV is a gameshow repeat channel based on nostalgia and that doesn’t scream wrestling content provider. So to say that some obscure channel that shows people knitting for 20 hours a day wouldn’t be a potential home for TNA isn’t all that far fetched.
Despite the odd coupling of channel and TNA content, at one point five years ago, the viewership was in the 200,000 viewer range. It was a respectable stat. What makes me think it will be difficult for TNA to find another home that will match what they were being paid by Challenge TV is that as of a year ago, that viewing figure dropped to about 89,000. If you are a network executive and you are looking at the bottom line figures, would this be good reading to you? When you factor in that TNA’s UK home station and time slot hasn’t changed in that time unlike the multiple changes that have happened in the States (from Spike TV to Destination America to Pop), bouncing the time and/or days that it is broadcast, it’s not great reading.
It would appear that if TNA is going to continue to broadcast to their UK fans in some fashion. The theory of an online streaming model by Anthem/Fight Network may not be so far fetched. So if we take it for granted that this is the direction they intend to go in, some fans may feel that this could be a money earner for Anthem and TNA in the UK. After all, the perception remains that UK fans are hungry for TNA and are bigger supporters of the product than Americans. Not so much. My belief has always been that TNA was successful in the UK for the most part because the British fans wanted an underdog company that wasn’t WWE to call their own. To their credit, TNA always embraced it.
However, since 2012, there has been a major wave of British independent companies that continue to grow and grow. These promotions have replaced that niche that TNA once held. Some of the best British independent wrestlers who have never seen the bright lights of WWE, TNA and ROH are going to be showcased on a mainstream channel with Jim Ross calling the action when World of Sports Wrestling returns in early 2017. In my mind, it’s not just coincidence that TNA’s rating fall coincided with the resurgence of British Independent wrestling.
If an online streaming service that costs $10-$15 becomes available to the 89,000 of TNA’s viewers I’m sure the diehards would snap it up. How about the more casual fans of that figure? Imagine if you will that one night fans are looking for a way to fill their wrestling fix and they see some of these British Independent stars on mainstream TV along with the credibility boast they will get of good ol’ JR calling their matches. Those viewers might try to find out where these wrestlers perform and pay for the cheaper online services of those companies they work for. For instance, I know that when TNA is no longer broadcast here on Sunday nights, I will be using that time to watch the Progress and PCW promotions on their online streaming services along with ICW on the Fite app to fill that void.
With the cash injection that TNA has had and the ownership that Anthem is pushing towards, they will continue with or without the UK deal. But in what form will they continue to broadcast their shows in the land of Britain? It’s going to be interesting to see what their plans are and even if they are a presence online or on regular broadcast TV. The most interesting question of all is can they fend off losing more of their viewers to the resurgence of the British Independent Scene. Time will tell.
As always if you want to get in touch, feel free to contact me on twitter @haydngleed or via email email@example.com
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Frank Zarrillo discussing his film "The Wrestler: A QT Marshall Story", which includes appearances by Matt Riddle, Damian Priest, Gerald Brisco, Kevin Kelly, Steve Corino, and many more, the involvement of Marshall's wife and mother, and much more. Stick around after the interview for Powell's audio review of Wednesday's AEW Dynamite television show...