Smackdown Ratings: Three weeks of declining ratings, key metrics and perspective on WWE’s shaky start on Fox broadcast network

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor


WWE Smackdown on Fox got off to a good start with 3.880 million viewers on Oct. 4, scoring not only nearly double the prior Smackdown Live viewership on USA Network (2.099 million viewers on 9/24), but doing well in the key demographics that networks and advertisers most covet. That episode, heavily hyped by Fox network on NFL games and throughout other programming, featured The Rock’s appearance plus Brock Lesnar challenging Kofi Kingston for the WWE Title.

The next week featured the WWE Draft, an episode sprinkled with various Fox Sports personalities riffing on the draft pick options. The viewership dropped a million down to 2.877, the highest viewership since the March 20, 2018 episode over a year and a half earlier.

Last Friday night, Smackdown dropped again, down 450,000 viewers to 2.418 million viewers. That viewership is lower than the year-ago rating on USA Network of 2.545 million viewers. That was the first episode without any special appearances or a special format.

That was good enough to finish no. 1 for the night in the adult 18-49 demographic with a 0.8 rating. The next best rating in that demo that night was CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O” on CBS which drew a 0.6 rating. Overall viewership, though, wasn’t close with “Hawaii Five-O” drawing 6.21 million viewers compared to Smackdown’s 2.44. That’s because “Hawaii Five-O” draws so many viewers over age 49.

The prior week, for the WWE Draft edition, Smackdown drew a 1.0 rating in that demo, beating “Hawaii Five-O” which drew a 0.7 rating. That was down from the big premiere on Fox which drew a 1.4 rating in that demo, doubling the “Hawaii Five-O” demo rating on CBS.

TV By the Numbers touted the premiere episode of Smackdown’s rating.

The champion of Friday night’s broadcast ratings was, unquestionably, Fox. The network smashed its way to an easy victory in the second week of the new TV season with “Friday Night SmackDown,” as the WWE came back to FOX for the first time since November 14, 1992. The triumphant return appears to have paid off handsomely, with the event scoring a 1.4 rating in adults 18-49 and drawing 3.87 million viewers. This allowed the broadcast to lead the demo not just across both hours it aired, but across the entire night.

Their take on last week’s rating was more sobering.

The actual winner of the night, insomuch as there was one, was Fox’s “WWE Friday Night Smackdown.” The wrestling series landed a 0.8 in the demo with 2.44 million viewers, outranking all of its competition, but this was down from the 1.0 with 2.88 million viewers of last week. In the three weeks it has been on the air, the show has seen a 0.6 drop-off in its ratings.

This week, Smackdown moves to FS1 for one week since Fox is airing a World Series game. Despite heavy advertising that the show is moving for one week only, it’s likely to see a big drop in viewership. Then it’ll return to Fox the following week, but how much of a ratings hit will it take for being bumped from Fox for one week, when there already was a negative viewership trend. Will WWE try to promote a special appearance next week? This week, they’re pushing that Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan will be on the show. Next week, it’ll air the day after Crown Jewel when there’s expected to be news from the event including the Brock Lesnar-Cain Velasquez and Braun Strowman-Tyson Fury fallout.

The question already being asked is how much more of a rating drop will Fox accept before sounding alarm bells and possibly even moving Smackdown to to FS1 so Fox can replace Smackdown with higher rated programming.

One year ago, the Oct. 5 episode of “Last Man Standing” drew a 1.3 demo rating and 6.04 million viewers. The Oct. 12, 2018 of “Last Man Standing” on Fox drew a 1.4 demo rating and 6.34 million viewers. The Oct. 19 “Last Man Standing” drew a 1.2 rating and 6.20 million viewers. “Hell’s Kitchen,” which foll0wed on Fox, drew a 0.7 rating and 7.33 million viewers.

So WWE is barely competitive with demo ratings to what Fox drew these three weeks last year, and drawing fewer than half of the total viewers. Fox saw WWE Smackdown as more “DVR-proof” than non-live-sports programming and values WWE because it can provide 52 weeks a year of original programming without expensive start-up costs of new series. Nevertheless, there is very little padding left before Smackdown begins underperforming even in the target demo what Fox drew last year these same three weeks, and it’s already well under half of the viewership Fox had last year.


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