WWE ratings this year continue a downward trend that is very likely going to end up taking a huge chunk out of their massive TV rights fees on their next TV deal in a couple of years. The one sort-of-bright-spot was that Smackdown ratings this year were above last year’s ratings, which given how down Raw in 2017 is from 2016, was a sign of success for the roster split and moving Smackdown to live on Tuesdays. That 2017 lead over 2016 has now evaporated, and perhaps more alarming is the drop-off in male adult viewers the last nine weeks.
The key metric lately coincides with the new push of Jinder Mahal into the World Title program. Since Jinder’s no. 1 contendership victory, over the last nine weeks Smackdown has averaged a 1.62 rating, essentially tied with last year’s average of the same stretch of 1.61. The nine weeks before that averaged 1.89. Now, because that stretch included WrestleMania season and the Superstar Shake-up that traditionally leads to higher ratings, it’s not fair to look at a drop-off in ratings the last nine weeks and blame it solely on Jinder or anything else Smackdown has presented differently since the Superstar Shake-up. A drop-off was expected. The deeper and more relevant metric is how did this year’s post-WrestleMania drop-off compared to last year’s post-WrestleMania drop-off.
During the nine-week stretch prior to Jinder’s push, Smackdown had a 0.17 lead over the 2016 ratings during that same nine-week stretch. Since Jinder’s push to the top, that lead is down to 0.01, or basically gone completely. The nine week average since Jinder’s push has been a 1.62 rating. Last year was a 1.61 rating during the same stretch.
Sure, Jinder is usually in just one segment on Smackdown, but the symbolism of pushing Jinder and keeping Randy Orton in the World Title mix instead of focusing on A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, and Shinsuke Nakamura in the World Title picture (among other critiques, such as the portrayal of Sami Zayn, the disappearance of Tye Dillinger, and the overall lack of depth with the slow arrival of New Day and Rusev) may have played a significant role in turning off Smackdown viewers.
So who has stopped watching in this “Jinder Era?” Adult males. In huge numbers.
The peak rating for Smackdown this year came on Apr. 11, when the male 18-49 rating was 1.27. This week’s male 18-49 rating was 0.67. If you go younger and isolate the male 18-34 demographic, the drop-off is even sharper, from a 1.01 on Apr. 11 to a 0.45, well over a 50 percent drop.
If you compare this week’s key male demos to the first show of the year, it’s not much better. On Jan. 3, the male 18-49 demo drew a 1.04 rating compared to this week’s 0.67. The male 18-34 demo drew a 0.86 rating on Jan. 3 compared to the 0.45 this week.
That should send a loud message to WWE, if they’re listening, that the core adult male demo isn’t thrilled with what Smackdown is presenting post-Superstar Shake-up and, more markedly, since Jinder Mahal’s sudden push to World Championship level. If you are looking to exonerate Jinder, you can point to the departure of John Cena. However, was Cena really the reason 18-34 males were watching Smackdown earlier this year? That will be tested in July when he returns. Other changes during this post-Superstars-Shake-up stretch include the addition of Charlotte and loss of Alexa Bliss, the addition of Kevin Owens and the loss of The Miz, the addition of Sami Zayn and the loss of Dean Ambrose, the addition of Byron Saxton and the loss of Mauro Ranallo, and the absence of Daniel Bryan.
Had WWE built the World Title around A.J. Styles as a newly turned babyface, and shifted Randy Orton out of the World Title picture and kept Jinder Mahal to the U.S. Title level, and not mocked Sami Zayn as a nitwit and flake, and featured Shinsuke Nakamura better out of the gate instead of standing around making weird faces as Dolph Ziggler made bad Michael Jackson jokes that 18-34 year old males see as ancient pop culture references, maybe WWE would have held onto that 2017 ratings advantage for Smackdown.