By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Co-Presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson served as the hosts of a conference call pertaining to the 2019 third quarter financial report that was released on October 31, 2019. The following are the highlights of the call. Refresh the page for the latest updates.
-The call was hosted by Co-Presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, and and WWE Investor Relations Michael Weitz. It was noted that Vince McMahon was in Saudi Arabia for Crown Jewel. Weitz read through the legalities and turned things over to Barrios.
-Barrios read through the financial report. He said they are very excited about the launch of Smackdown on Fox and noted that it makes WWE live on a premier broadcast platform. Barrios noted that Smackdown has averaged 3.1 million viewers in its the three weeks it has aired on Fox.
-Barrios said the continued focus is on the evolution of WWE Network. He praised the new platform by saying it looks better and is easier to use (he didn’t mention the awful network schedule page or other complaints that users have expressed).
-Wilson spoke about WWE Friday Night Smackdown on Fox, and NXT expanding to two hours and airing live on USA Network. She noted that they air seven hours of live in-ring content over three days per week. Wilson also spoke about WWE Crown Jewel and the After The Bell podcast. She also spoke of a WWE movie that will include Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch doing voiceovers for the characters.
-Wilson noted that the reaction to their latest video game has been “mixed” and then stated that they have faith in the developers to continue to improve the game.
-Barrios spoke of the company’s belief that live content value will continue to increase
-Weitz opened the line for questions. The first caller asked for a breakdown of the Saudi deals and some other factors and the company’s investments. Barrios didn’t share any details regarding the Saudi deal and then referenced past comments about their investments.
-The caller asked if NXT moving to USA will impact WWE Network subscriptions and whether it will remain at Full Sail or if it would be better off going on the road to be better positioned on Wednesdays. Barrios said they believe live content value will continue to increase. He said they believe the quick turnaround time of NXT streaming on the network is valuable.
-A caller asked if anything has changed regarding their projected expenses in 2020. Barrios said they don’t have anything material that should affect it, but nothing is official.
-The caller brought up international deals that still need to be finalized and asked if there are any specific bottlenecks that have caused the Indian deal and the MENA deal to take longer than expected. He noted that the Indian version of the FCC wanted to undo some of the bundling. He wondered if the wheels of progress are starting to churn more than they have in past quarters. Barrios said they believe they will have their Indian distribution plan set by the end of the year. He said the regulatory environment is changing, but he didn’t want to get into what it will mean for them.
-The next caller brought up the streaming wars with HBO Max and Disney Plus. She asked if they are reconsidering their pricing for WWE Network now that a lot of the streaming service prices will be cheaper. Barrios spoke about their most passionate fans and a value difference.
-The caller asked what’s original on WWE Network that people are paying for. Barrios pointed out that the window for NXT turnaround is roughly 24 hours. He spoke of more in-ring content as a result of NXT and Takeover specials. He said they expect to increase that in 2020. He said the pay-per-views and WrestleMania are the big drivers. He said they are still doing over 200 hours of original content in addition to the pay-per-views. He brought up tiering and said they believe it will bring additional value. He spoke of localization of the content over time and said they feel good about the future.
-The caller wondered if the model is to run twice each year in Saudi Arabia. Barrios said he couldn’t answer that (what can he answer?).
-A caller noted that Barrios said there were no assurances regarding future Saudi shows and wondered what roadblocks there were. Barrios said he thought they would have a MENA television deal done, but he declined to provide more details.
-Barrios declined to say whether today’s Crown Jewel will be as profitable given the additions of Cain Velasquez and Tyson Fury to the show.
-Wilson spoke of the Fox deal opening doors to advertisers and said they feel good about the opportunity.
-The next caller asked about engagement trends and whether it has something to do with their investments back into the business. Barrios said the engagement is not where they wanted to be, but they continue to invest in the in-ring content.
-The caller said they attempt to sacrifice the short term to better the long term even if it goes against guidance. Barrios said they are very focused on 2020 and the value of the live content between 2020 and 2025 in the U.S. especially. He said they also think beyond 2025 with international deals. He noted the NBA’s success in China and how it took 25 years.
-The caller asked if 2020 being in flux affects the possibility of buybacks. Barrios said he didn’t want to get into that.
-Eric Bischoff’s termination was brought up by the next caller, who also asked if Paul Heyman was fully integrated into the creative process on Raw. Barrios spoke of the hirings of executive directors allowing Vince to be more targeted. He said they are very happy with the structure. In a shocking twist, Barrios said he wouldn’t speak about any specific individuals, but they feel good about the changes they made to the structure.
-A caller recalled Barrios bringing up Indian and China in his opening remarks and asked for more details. Barrios said the U.S. is still the largest market, then spoke of the potential for long term growth internationally.
-The next caller brought up the emergence of AEW and how it affects WWE. Barrios said the live content ecosystem is competitive and listed the NBA and NASCAR and others and then said you move down and get to the third or fourth tier. He said everyone is a competitor to some degree. He said there’s a lot of competition for eyeballs and that needs to be taken seriously.
-The caller asked if the average cost of the money spent on talent has to do with AEW. The caller mentioned Chris Jericho stating that WWE should be worried about losing other wrestlers. Barrios said historically that as the company has done better, their talent has done better. He said they think it’s a good model. He spoke about the talent having a decision to make, then ran through some of WWE’s strengths including social media numbers.
-A short time later, the operator noted that there were no additional callers waiting to ask questions, then Weitz wrapped up the call.
Powell’s POV: Vince McMahon was missed. Barrios declines to answer so many questions, whereas you get an occasional nugget out of Vince, even though he doesn’t do a lot of talking on these calls.