20 YRS AGO: Raw shows signs of life in Monday Night War with Nitro, analysis of whether the WWF could sustain momentum

By Wade Keller , PWTorch editor

Raw is War

SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

 

20 Years Ago this week, the PWTorch Newsletter #439 (cover-dated May 10, 1997) cover story detailed the growth in Monday Night Raw ratings, and a real sign of a potential comeback against the dominant WCW Nitro. The following is that cover story.

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ORIGINAL HEADLINE

Raw posts big ratings — can they be sustained?

WWF has a better chance this year than last year to keep viewers who sample Raw during May

The WWF finally broke the 3.0 ratings barrier for the Apr. 28 and May 5 editions of Raw is War thanks to the shift in timeslot for Nitro. With Nitro being moved an hour earlier and shortened to one hour in length, it dropped to respectable 2.7 and 2.6 ratings (5.1 shares) the last two Mondays. Raw drew 3.4 ratings (5.2 shares) each week. WCW drew essentially the same percentage of the audience watching TV at the time (i.e. “shares”) as Raw, despite being at a totally new timeslot. Because the shows are not head-to-head, it doesn’t count on the scorecard as a win for Raw, so Nitro’s 42 week winning streak won’t be on the line again until May 26, after TNT’s Monday coverage of the NBA playoffs is over. Raw beat the NBA ratings both weeks. The NBA games drew 3.1 ratings on Apr. 28 and May 5.

The overall wrestling audience hovered between 5.0 and 6.0 for combined ratings. That was Raw’s pool of fans to draw from. Of Nitro’s usual 3.0-3.5 rating, Raw is drawing about 35 percent of those viewers to its show. It is those viewers it needs to win over in order to close the gap between Raw and Nitro come May 26 when they return to head-to-head competition.

Unless in the next two weeks the WWF can build on the 3.4 rating they drew the last two weeks, they will almost assuredly go back to losing to Nitro. Nitro, with head-to-head competition, was drawing 3.4 or higher ratings most weeks. Without competition from Nitro, Raw is not topping 3.4. Inevitably a certain percentage of viewers who are tuning in to Raw now are only doing so because Nitro isn’t on the air. For the WWF to close the gap to a virtual tie, they would need half of the Nitro loyalists who are new Raw viewers to remain loyal to Raw even when Nitro returns to its usual timeslot. That would up Raw’s rating near 3.0, which would also drop Nitro’s average rating to 3.0. If Raw fails to hook at least half of those new viewers, Nitro will keep their winning streak alive — at least in the short run. If the WWF produces compelling TV enough weeks in a row, they may be able to add viewers to the pie that both shows share and thus increase its audience on its own.

It is not a foregone conclusion that Nitro will return to domination of Raw as many assume. Last year Raw averaged a 3.7 in the four weeks it went up against the NBA instead of WCW. Nitro, meanwhile, dropped to a 2.2. Afterward, the 1.5 gap immediately disappeared and Nitro began its Monday night domination over Raw. That ratings domination, though, was launched by the blockbuster debuts of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, followed by the Hulk Hogan heel turn and the forwarding of the Sting storyline. As hot as WCW’s angles are, there isn’t anything in waiting (not even the debut of Curt Hennig or the appearance of Dennis Rodman) that could match the impact of the debut of the Outsiders and the formation of the NWO. Without that, and with the WWF showing signs of momentum with the new Hart Foundation, the WWF is in a better position to compete in June this year than last year.

Last year during May the ratings declined for Raw as the month went on, in part because the NBA games grew more important as the playoffs progressed. If a Chicago Bulls playoff game goes up against Raw, Raw will probably lose the ratings battle that week since Chicago’s playoff game against the Washington Bullets last week broke the 5.0 barrier for an NBA game, setting a record for the NBA on TNT.

The replay numbers for Nitro the last two weeks, when added to the live broadcast, put Nitro ahead of Raw on overall ratings points garnered each night. The Apr. 28 replay drew a 1.0 rating (beginning after Midnight) and the May 5 replay drew a 1.7 rating (at 11 p.m. ET).

The WWF can find encouragement that the audience for Raw essentially grew steadily throughout the Apr. 28 show, beginning at 3.1 and growing to 3.2, 3.5, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.5, and 3.7. The quarter hour ratings for May 5 were a bit more scattered (see “TV Reviews,” pg. 3), but at least began with a 3.1 and ended with a 3.6. On Apr. 28, Nitro kept viewers tuned in — it began with a 2.4 and grew to 2.5, 2.7, and 3.1. May 5 they began with a 2.1 and ended with a 3.0, again showing signs of growth during the program.


Read this entire newsletter if you’re a VIP member by CLICKING HERE.

PWTorch VIP members have access to over 1,500 back issues of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter (a  mix of PDF & Text versions) dating back to the late 1980s detailing the biggest stories in pro wrestling, reports on every Raw and every Nitro and every PPV, hard-hitting editorials, exclusive Torch Talk interview transcripts, backstage insider tidbits, and much more. GO VIP HERE.


NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS FLASHBACK ARTICLE: 10 YRS AGO: WWE Live Event Report – Binghampton, N.Y. with Punk, Batista, Kendrick, RVD, Kane, Kennedy, Boogeyman

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