In-Depth Report – Is Raw turning into a niche product?

By James Caldwell, PWTorch assistant editor


This week’s Raw TV ratings performance should be a concern for everyone involved in the process. However, there is a larger concern that WWE and USA Network have to address.

Has Raw turned into a niche product lacking broad appeal?

It would not have even been a question this time last year when Raw was doing okay. Not great, but okay.

This Fall TV season, though, Raw’s ratings have fallen off the table.

It’s one week, but Monday’s show following the Survivor Series PPV fell to some of the lowest demographic ratings in the current era.

Most concerning was the adults 18-49 demo, which fell below a 1.0 rating after ranging between 1.10-1.17 throughout the fall season after Labor Day.

Again, it could be viewed as “just one week” considering Raw was opposed by the next-to-last episode of this season’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Consider the following six-year trend, though.

Adults 18-49 Rating

  • Nov. 23, 2015: 0.99 rating
  • Nov. 24, 2014: 1.52 rating
  • Nov. 25, 2013: 1.45 rating
  • Nov. 26, 2012: 1.34 rating
  • Nov. 28, 2011: 1.73 rating
  • Nov. 29, 2010: 1.76 rating

– Even eliminating this week’s show to just focus on the 1.10-1.17 range throughout the fall season, it’s not close to the a18-49 rating the previous five years.

Another way of looking at it is the average a18-49 rating for the three-month period of September to November smoothing out some of the weekly ups-and-downs.

Adults 18-49 Average weekly rating

  • Fall TV 2015: 1.13 rating (down 14% from 2014)
  • Fall TV 2014: 1.32 rating
  • Fall TV 2013: 1.38 rating
  • Fall TV 2012: 1.39 rating
  • Fall TV 2011: 1.71 rating
  • Fall TV 2010: 1.67 rating

The drop-off is similar in the key male demos. Raw’s unique selling point is (a) appealing mostly to males and (b) having the ability to draw in female viewers. This fall season has not delivered and Monday’s show was a big step in the wrong direction.


Also notice the significant drop-off from Fall 2011 to Fall 2012. That was the first year of three-hour Raws. It appears the length of Raw has turned away multiple pockets of the audience.

– Why is it so important for Raw to have broad viewership? That’s what their TV partner, USA, is built on. USA sells itself in the marketplace as being able to cast a wide net. Raw, as the #1 show on the network, has to match the selling point of the network.

WWE could make the argument that the product is going through a transition period. John Cena, who brought in a wide range of viewers, was shifted out of the main event scene after this year’s WrestleMania when he undertook the weekly U.S. Title Open Challenge. He was no longer the central character of the show.

Fast-forward to the middle of the fall season and Cena was completely off the show. Enter Roman Reigns as the lead protagonist.

Reigns is a serviceable, suitable, acceptable central character. But, he has not proven to be a needle-mover. WWE even put Reigns in the ring with Cena for a breast cancer awareness spot in October to try to symbolically pass the torch, but Reigns did not measure up to the seasoned spokesman.

Reigns is a product of a watered-down system exacerbated by three-hour Raws where it’s difficult for full-time stars to feel special.

Reigns gets mostly positive reactions at house shows and TV tapings among general fans. He also moves merchandise. That’s part of the justification to push forward with top-line plans. However, he’s not generating a consistent Superstar-level reaction that WWE needs right now from their central figure. They need someone to stand out as unique, special, powerful, likable, sympathetic, heroic, and worthy of people’s attention to help reverse the 2015 ratings slide.

Reigns has a certain appeal to female viewers, but it’s not close to Jeff Hardy at his peak. After Sheamus won the WWE Title from Reigns at Survivor Series, WWE started the Daniel Bryan story of mental/physical beat downs from The Authority, but Reigns is not an undersized, plucky underdog fighting against both the on-screen and behind-the-scenes corporate machines. Reigns even has the deck stacked against him to regain the WWE Title a la John Cena’s multiple title chases, but it’s difficult for viewers to feel sympathetic toward him.

In 2015, WWE has driven away a portion of their core male audience with booking decisions that are misaligned with the audience’s expectations. There is not that “hope figure” like Daniel Bryan since WWE has defined down a candidate like Dean Ambrose. WWE wants Reigns to be that figure, but the reception is too mixed – and borderline indifferent.

– With Raw falling below the Mendoza Line of 3.0 million viewers on Monday and overall adult viewers declining so sharply this week and the Fall TV season, Raw is risking the label of a niche product.

And, the trickle-down effect will impact the rest of the pro wrestling industry, especially a company like TNA landing on female-leaning Pop TV for its third TV deal in three years.

WWE and USA have to find a way to reverse the Raw trend and broaden the audience, especially when NBC Universal just booked a host of new advertisers for Raw. Notice the multiple Kay Jewelers ads during Monday’s Raw to go along with Carl’s Jr. burgers and fries?

WWE needs to somehow improve the female demos and draw back adult males who are drifting away. It’s critical for Raw as well as Smackdown, which is shifting from Syfy to USA in just a few months.

WWE believes Reigns will eventually be the answer if they can get all segments of the audience reasons to invest in Reigns. So far, there is not enough proof from the outside looking in to support that long-term commitment to Reigns in this position. But, WWE will keep trying.

And, at the end of the day, there’s always a desperation phone call to make to Donald Trump for a publicity stunt to kickstart ratings.

4 Comments on In-Depth Report – Is Raw turning into a niche product?

  1. Your analysis is spot on.

    But I would add this: there is so much inconsistency in storylines, such as the Be A Star-anti-bullying thing, and in how they present “characters” on Raw in one moment, then on some stupid spot in the middle of the show. I KNOW Miz is not what he appears to be on Raw, but I don’t want to be REMINDED of that when I’m WATCHING Raw.

    I blame so much of what Raw has become on Stephanie McMahon transforming the product into a politically correct one. Wrestling CANNOT be politically correct completely. It simply cannot.

    There are so many other things wrong: no star power built, no star power period — the exits of aging stars who weren’t replaced is a direct result of no competition. Wrestling for decades relied on an evolving roster in every promotion. Now, the WWE machine/Vince has created a somewhat viable way to replace stars with NXT. But it’s not the same as a Tommy “Wildfire” Rich or “Ravishing” Rick Rude coming in unexpectedly. It’s just not, and it never will be.

    I know we’re not going back to a territorial system, but so many of these problems can be fixed. But the emperor has his new clothes, and his princess has no knowledge, or desire, to correct the problems brought on by years and years now of creative ineptness.

  2. – 3 hours long

    – Too many cold, long matches with no purpose

    – No cliffhangers or suspense in storylines

    – Scripted, cold feel over entire show

    – Bad, formulaic, robotic commentary

    – Not enough variation in the show – no backstage skits, no brawling, no craziness to keep you on the edge of your seat

    These are just some of the problems off the top of my head. I feel ilke some of comes down to places like WO/F4W and also somewhat PWTorch, who have constantly pushed for a return to 70’s/80’s style wrestling with longer matches and less talking over the years. Less so PWTorch which is more balanced and considered in its opinions.

    It’s easy to go and watch an episode of Raw on the network now and see why people were excited about the show then.. yes, Stone Cold, Rock etc. were all great natural talents, but the format of the show and the writing is what kept viewers hooked and not turning off.

    Raw no longer feels like a show you tune in to watch from beginning to end, but a dull sporting event that you can drift in and out of without missing much, kind of like a game of soccer.

  3. With Seth Rollins injured and John Cena absent WWE couldn’t do nothing to avoid a slow down. sometimes good matches but never great matches, People not really interesting to see what happennig anymore.Big belly fat man, monsters, becoming main people of main event. Big champ still in limbo, Wrestler like Ziggler disliked by Management authority. Cena put out for a 16th title to preserve old champ…a writer team out of work. Have WWE ‘s fans to wait for a better time? May be for the moment better to rest and come when Cena and others will come back

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