By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Vince McMahon and members of senior management served as the hosts of a conference call pertaining to the 2017 fourth quarter financial report that was released on February 8, 2018. The following are the highlights of the call. Refresh the page for the latest updates.
-The call is hosted by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, WWE Chief Strategy and Financial Officer George Barrios, and Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson, and and WWE Investor Relations Michael Weitz. Weitz read through the legalities and turned the call over to Vince.
-Vince boasted of the record revenue for the full year and noted that it was at the high end of their guidance. He said WWE Network’s subscriber count had roughly an eight percent increase. Vince touted their digital content and success on Youtube. He also mentioned Mixed Match Challenge and the new Miz and Maryse reality show that will air on USA Network.
-Vince noted that they celebrated their 25th anniversary of Raw. He said it was a pretty good milestone, but there will be many more to come.
-Vince praised Triple H and Stephanie McMahon for signing Ronda Rousey.
-Vince said they are pleased with their performance and looking forward to 2018 and more record revenue.
-Barrios read through the earnings presentation. He emphasized the increased consumption of their digital media.
-Wilson spoke about optimizing their content over all platforms. She said WWE is able to create new content that reaches fans on new platforms. She spotlighted the WWE Mixed Match Challenge and how it is interactive. She said the show has produced over six million views and over 12 million minutes watched. Wilson also mentioned the women’s Royal Rumble and the appearance of Ronda Rousey. She said WWE is a media powerhouse.
-Wilson said Raw and Smackdown are the number one and two running programs on USA Network. Wilson noted that Raw 25 attracted the show’s best ratings in over three years.
-Barrios noted the changes in how the company will report their financial information, which is available in a press release and in the earnings presentation.
-They opened the line to questions. The first caller congratulated Barrios and Wilson on their promotions. He asked about the goals for the Mixed Match Challenge on Facebook and whether it’s given them faith that Raw and Smackdown could be successful if they aired exclusively on a similar platform. Barrios said it’s been great so far and they are learning every day on the production side. He said there’s not really a benchmark, but they and their partners are happy.
-Barrios noted that Raw and Smackdown are available on Youtube in certain countries and they monitor that all the time. He said they have learned that people are getting more comfortable with watching longer content online, so they will continue to monitor that.
-The next caller how their expenses will be laid back in 2018. He also asked if the cutbacks will go to normalized levels in 2019. Barrios said the timing of WrestleMania put a higher amount of production and other expenses in the second quarter. He said they would only guidance on 2018 but not beyond. The caller followed up by asking about non-WrestleMania investments. Barrios said they don’t give line item guidance for the full year. He said they want to give themselves flexibility to manage their investments throughout the year.
-A caller brought up the four-year growth rate for television and asked Barrios to speak to the level of economics they are getting in their new television renewals. Barrios said the deals can vary quite a bit percentage wise, but they are top seven deals. The caller followed up by asking about the digital media step up and whether it’s mostly coming from volume or CPM increases. Wilson said it’s both volume and CPM, which she said is good news. She said their video growth on Youtube is a major contributor.
-The next caller asked Vince McMahon to address how the launch of the XFL will affect his role and whether his stock sale still leaves the XFL with insufficient funding. Vince said it’s not sufficient funding wise and will take a bigger investment, but there will be a separate management team for the XFL so his WWE role will not change.
-A caller asked if there has been more of a demand for WWE programming outside of the traditional television platforms. Barrios said he wouldn’t get into specifics. The caller asked if his phone was ringing from more suitors than last time. The WWE team laughed. “You’re kidding me, right?” Barrios cracked.
-The caller asked about doing additional online content similar to what they are doing with Facebook for the MMC. Wilson said the company’s ability to come up with new ideas like this are unlimited. She once again said they and Facebook are happy with the numbers thus far.
-The next caller asked Barrios about where the company is investing in 2018 compared to 2017 and international live events. He also asked about the watch time on Facebook and said the average time is said to be 17 minutes for longer content, where the numbers they provided for MMC was shorter. Barrios said more content, more on consumer technology and data, and local markets (the localization of content and in marketing and data). Barrios said they are trying to balance the bottom line and making investments that will pay off long term. As for watch time, Barrios said Facebook has more data than they do, but they have seen growth, but he declined to make comparisons.
-A caller asked about network growth and network tiering. Barrios said the network is their second largest business. “It’s a phenomenal business in the portfolio,” Barrios said. He mentioned localizing the network and tiering does give them an opportunity to bend the growth curb. He said that if their assumptions are correct, there will be improvement over the back half of the year compared to the first quarter.
-The caller asked about the Miz and Maryse reality show. Wilson said it’s a six-episode season and they are looking at a summer premiere, but they don’t discuss financials.
-Barrios exchanged some of their reporting changes to the caller.
-The next caller asked about the social and digital growth and where it’s coming from. She asked if it becomes a revenue stream eventually of if it will remain more of a marketing tool. The caller brought up FOX mentioning that they are shifting focus to live sports. She asked about NBC’s exclusive negotiating window. She also asked whether there were December events in India and the UK.
-Vince said the growth in digital is simply good content. As for rights, Vince said he would let people make their own comparison between the numbers they deliver for USA Network. Vince said they have proven to be good with audience migration, meaning their audience has followed them when they moved in the past.
-Barrios said there’s a long history of dollars following eyeballs and they are starting to see that with digital. He said it’s not similar to television at this time, but they expect it to grow.
-Barrios said he wouldn’t comment on how others are viewing their television numbers.
-Wilson noted that 70 percent of their digital consumption happens outside the United States. She said India and the UK are two of their top television agreements. She mentioned the “great response” for the UK Title Tournament and how Paul (Levesque) has done well in scouting talent in that market. She also spoke about the localized show they have in India and said it continues to perform very well. She said they are excited about the growth in India and the UK.
-The final caller asked about subscriber growth in 2018 and praised the star power of Ronda Rousey. He asked about the fan reaction to her and whether she will be part-time like Brock Lesnar or more of an ambassador like The Rock. Barrios cited a previous answer regarding their growth projections.
-As for Rousey, Vince had Paul “Triple H” Levesque address the Rousey deal. He said they are finalizing the deal and they are still crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. He said she will be fully committed to WWE and this is her life now. He said they look forward to that opportunity because she is a massive global star.
-Vince had Stephanie McMahon address the women’s evolution. She said they have become main eventers on some events. She mentioned the fans chanting “this is hope” during their first women’s match in Abu Dhabi. Wilson said their social media blew up over Rousey and the women’s Royal Rumble match. She said the women’s matches often are among their highest rated matches. Stephanie said they are not just doing it for a movement sake, it’s because the fans demanded it. She said the female talent are rising up to the challenge and taking every opportunity. Levesque said that what they have started with the women’s division has attracted people such as Rousey and others who want to be involved.
-The caller asked about people comparing their last TV rights fees compared to now. He brought up the women’s evolution as being a possible driver. “We’ll find out soon enough,” Barrios said. They closed out the call.
Powell’s POV: They were all about hyping the women’s evolution with Hunter and Stephanie joining the three usual conference call hosts in raving about the movement. It’s interesting that they were still noncommittal in terms of Rousey’s deal. It’s interesting that the deal isn’t officially done yet. I would be shocked if it fell through at this point given how excited she seems to be about working with the company. I didn’t expect any real answers regarding their television negotiations since it would be foolish of them to say much at this point. Still, it was very interesting that Vince was willing to indirectly point out how much WWE programming is responsible for the success of USA Network. Jake Barnett and I will be talking about this conference call and all the news of the week in the Dot Net Weekly audio show, which will be available exclusively to Dot Net Members later today.
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