The Wednesday Night Ratings War between AEW and NXT has been bubbling away for six months now. While this pseudo ‘war’ has certainly failed to live up to the historic numbers of the late 90s Nitro v Raw Is War, it has certainly provided more than enough ammo for those who want to relive (or live for the first time) those long mythologised times.
But over the the last twenty six weeks what have we actually learnt?
I’ve been tracking the numbers every week and have drawn a number of conclusions from what they tell us.
Firstly though I will start by emphasising two points.
One, popularity doesn’t equal quality. I’ll say that again for emphasis.
POPULARITY DOESN’T EQUAL QUALITY.
The best wrestling doesn’t always draw the biggest numbers so you can’t judge a show’s quality or compare which show is better purely based on which has the highest ratings. This isn’t wrestling specific either, the two most popular tv show ratings wise of the late 2000s and 2010s have been Two & A Half Men and Big Bang Theory. Not even the biggest fans of those shows will try to argue that they represent the pinnacle of TV production. Looking outside of the media, the most popular restaurant in the world numbers wise is McDonald’s and the most popular beers are Budwiser and Snow Larger. I have nothing against a Big Mac or an ice cold larger, in fact I quite enjoy both but you would be laughed out of the bar if you ever tried to claim either are the best representations of their respective crafts in the world.
Secondly, you should like what you like and not care if others don’t also like it. We should all know this really, pro wrestling is frankly a weird thing to be a fan of; in 2020 even in its biggest market, the USA, it remains a niche product. The idea that we should be at war with one another, fighting about how one billionaire’s company gets more viewers than another’s is insane. That doesn’t mean we can’t offer a critique but in the end if you enjoy WWE main roster, that is great for you, if you love AEW, that is great for you, if you like the DDT Ironman Heavyweight Championship matches then that’s great for you too…. I think you get the idea.
With all of that out of the way I think there are several things we can learn about how shows are performing and how audiences react to them from tracking the numbers of the Wednesday Night Wrestling ‘War’, so let’s get stuck in with some numbers and then what we can take from all this:
Wednesday Night Wrestling Still Has A Long Way To Go
The first and most obvious takeaway from the numbers is that Wednesday Night Wrestling is still completely dwarfed by Raw on Monday night and Smackdown on Fridays.
Currently AEW averages 896,440 each week and NXT 744,423, combined that is 1,637,400 by comparison over the last six months Raw has averaged 2,227,000 viewers and Smackdown 2,498,120.
Twenty plus year habits take a hell of a lot of beating and even though both Smackdown and Raw have been constantly leaking numbers since their respective heydays, even the combined figures of AEW and NXT don’t come close to the numbers Raw and Smackdown get.
The WWE Main Roster juggernauts may recieve far different critical feedback to both AEW and NXT from the hardcore fanbase (remember what I said before about popularity not equaling quality) however when we are talking pure numbers I would be lacking any integrity as a columnist if I didn’t point this out.
The big point here is that Wednesday Night Wrestling has made a good start, as evidenced by AEW getting re-signed to their slot by TNT for another three years, however both shows have a long way to go if they want to compete with the casual audience appeal of Raw or Smackdown.
AEW is Ever So Slowly Growing It’s Audience & NXT Is Mostly Stable
With that sobering item out of the way, here is the good news. While many love to get wrapped up in the week by week numbers, unless you can draw incredible peaks with Superbowl like events, TV ratings are about the long term trajectory and on that front Wednesday night wrestling is doing fairly well.
Once the obvious outliers of the first three weeks of ratings are removed from the data it shows the combined number of viewers across both shows is staying pretty much stable across both products.
Before you accuse me of being selective, any statistician will tell you it is perfectly fair to remove those obvious outliers, particularly when it comes to well publicised TV show launches. Of course TV execs would love to not lose any viewers however most TV shows tend to have big launches with lots of people tuning in to see what the show is about and then decrease steeply over the first few weeks before hopefully establishing an audience.
While AEW’s biggest three weeks were their first three, since that initial drop they have on average been gaining viewers over time by a small margin.
NXT viewership has remained more or less stable particularly when their New Year’s Awards Show and most recent lockdown shows, which aren’t really fair representations of the product, are also removed from the data set. Even if a slight trickle off of numbers is in effect while AEW is around NXT remains safely locked into the competing slot.
So for those loving Wednesday night wrestling, great news, it’s here to stay!
Younger Audiences Tune In Live For ‘Events’ But Not Every Week
One of the memes that popped up back in November when NXT got a temporary boost from its inclusion in Survivor Series (more on that later), was that AEW ‘still won the demos’. What that meant of course is that while NXT had a greater viewership in total, AEW had a greater number of younger male and supposedly more lucrative fans watching whereas NXT relied on a base of loyal but reliable over 50s to boost their numbers.
I’m not a marketing executive so I can’t tell you if old loyal boomers or young fickle millenials are a better demographic to aim products at (sorry Gen. X you always miss out). However looking at the numbers you can tell a fair bit about the different ways different demographics consume live media. Whereas the 50+ numbers have remained relatively stable for both shows since the start, AEW in particular has risen and fallen with when their younger male audience tunes in or out.
When you map these numbers out against what is happening in the promotion it becomes clear, the 18-50 males will tune in live for ‘big events’, such as go home or post PPV shows but might not choose to tune in when they don’t think they’ll miss anything important.
Just as one example of this let’s compare the most recent AEW post-PPV show and the week after. While both had a similar rating amongst 50+ viewers 0.34 to 0.33, the 18-49 male group dropped from 0.49 to 0.35.
Also just before I put in the graph it’s worth noting that their is missing data as the source I use for the demographic information only provides the breakdown for the top 50 shows for the night and there have been weeks when they haven’t made it.
WWE Main Roster Stars on NXT = Ratings (except Charlotte Flair)
The first major ratings bump for NXT since its debut came on the 6th of November 2019 episode when AJ Styles and The OC invaded NXT, the first time Raw or Smackdown wrestlers had turned up on NXT television. That episode came hot off the heels of the NXT invasion of Smackdown the week previously and Raw on Monday and saw the yellow brand pull in an extra 223,000 viewers from the week previously.
The week after that, the 13th of November saw Bayley make an appearance at Full Sail but mostly the episode was focused on NXT and the upcoming TakeOver War Games, the ratings that week subsequently dipped a little to 750,000. However the week after in the go home show for Survivor Series NXT broadcast its most watched episode to date and first ‘win’ over AEW with a total of 916,000 viewers.
This integration and synergy with the main roster became must watch TV for NXT fans and most likely also drew some eyeballs across from the much bigger Raw and Smackdown audiences looking to see how their favourites farred against the upstarts..
Unfortunately they haven’t been able to repeat the trick in 2020 with the inclusion of Charlotte Flair in the NXT Women’s Title scene barely pushing the yellow brands numbers.
AEW Turned A Corner in 2020
Anyone who is watching AEW regularly knows this already, AEW has turned a corner in 2020, however it is worth repeating here because the subjective analysis is played out in the numbers.
If we remove the outliers of the first three weeks on TV and Trump’s address to the nation on COVID-19 on the 11th of March 2020, the average viewership for 2020 to 2019 is up 899K to 818K. However what is more encouraging is the far more stable numbers. As you’ll see in the graph below, gone are the wild drops to 600,000, 700,000, viewers and instead they are hovering comfortably between 800,000 and 950,000 viewers.
The key to this turnaround has been establishing a much stronger regular viewership in their younger demographic numbers. While in 2019 the numbers varied wildly, in 2020 AEW have focused on consistency up and down the card and creating far more ‘can’t miss’ episodes and segments to capture the less routine viewership of the 18-55s. Events such as Bash At The Beach, Jericho Cruise, The Lashing segment, The AEW First Cage Match or Moxley answering the Inner Circle are all events that are advertised for weeks before they happen as can’t miss. This has built anticipation and people who might have previously caught it later or not watched at all feel like they need to tune in.
Early Signs From COVID-19 Are Not Good
While ratings is really the last thing most of us care about when it comes to COVID-19 this is a column about ratings so let’s get into it. These are early days in deed but two weeks in and the trend doesn’t look great for the empty arena shows NXT & AEW have had to put on.
While AEW picked up a boost for their first empty arena show (remember what I said about event TV?), the second week had a big drop off in numbers going from 932,000, their third highest show of the year to 819,000, their third lowest. NXT may have registered a bump but that was going from their lowest rated episode ever to their third lowest of the year so hardly something to pop open some bubbly over.
As I said, these are early days so things could get turned around but it will be interesting to see how things play out as the weeks of lockdown extend into months and how numbers react to restrictions easing in the future.
That wraps it up for this week, what are your takes on the Wednesday Night War six months in? Let me know in the comments below. You can also chat to me further on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or in the AEW section on the LOP Forums.
Missed last week’s AEW column? Check it out here.
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