Additional notes from Ryan Frederick & Dave Meltzer
In the DVR era, how to get people to watch shows live (and hence, watch commercials) has almost become more important than what they are actually watching. Pro sports and other live entertainment has flourished with higher rights fees deals, especially in the latter. Many believe there's a bubble that will eventually burst, but no one is seeing a needle just yet.
In the latest effort to take advantage of that, WWE announced Wednesday morning that Smackdown will not only air live starting on July 19th, but it will officially move to Tuesday nights at 8 PM. The announcement was made in Variety, but WWE later released a statement and a video indicating that Shane and Stephanie McMahon will each run a show:
A twist that was buried in the story also indicates a brand split may be coming as well:
"A draft will be held before the “Smackdown” launch date to determine which wrestlers on the company’s talent roster will be assigned to which program. Each show is expected to feature separate cast, plots and writing teams."
The initial brand split happened in 2002 and ran through 2011, long after fans realized that it was pointless considering talents from both show were regularly appearing on the other show on a weekly basis. There was a yearly draft that started in 2004 that always shook up the deck a bit, but over time, the main stars were on both shows anyway.
The key aspects of the move are that WWE would have five hours of live programming every week, and on PPV weeks, it would be closer to nine hours on three consecutive days. WWE will also need to expand its main roster talent base, but also leave at least enough talent in NXT to be able to draw on their own.
In addition, a key aspect of this story is the declines at USA have led to wrestling becoming its strongest ratings programming.
The move to Tuesdays will also move Smackdown away from the ratings juggernaut that is NFL Thursday Night Football, which returns in September with extra added emphasis over past seasons. Smackdown has seen its ratings drop during the season, and the move to a live Tuesday format should avoid that strong night on television. Moving to Tuesday will also put it head-to-head against TNA, which likely won't hurt Smackdown ratings, but could have a big impact on the TNA ratings.
Variety noted that Smackdown has captured an average of nearly 1.06 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 on a live-plus-seven-day basis while Raw has a 1.85 million viewership number with the same demo, "season to date".