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USA Network announces Smackdown will remain on Thursday nights

In a press release today highlighting its January premieres, USA Network announced the move of WWE Smackdown from the SyFy network. What was notable from this release is that despite rumours of a possible move to Tuesday nights, airing live, the premiere was announced for January 7th, a Thursday, meaning it’s likely that this means the show will stay in the same Thursday time slot it’s been in for the last year.

This move is expected to increase audience viewership of the WWE’s #2 show, as the USA Network has a much higher average viewership than SyFy. Despite both networks being in virtually the same number of homes, USA averages about 1.6 million viewers in Prime Time (week ending Nov 1) vs about 770,000 for SyFy. Smackdown has consistently been the highest rated show on SyFy, averaging around 2.1 million viewers for the 2 hour show.

Smackdown has had many different TV homes over the years. The show debuted at the height of pro wrestling’s popularity in the US in August 1999 on the fledgling UPN network. In 2002, when the WWE did it’s brand split, Smackdown became it’s own “brand” and often had a higher viewership total than RAW, due to being on an over the air network.

In 2005, UPN moved the show to Friday nights. The show ratings predictably went down but it was still doing far better than what the network had previously been airing on Friday nights, usually old movies. In September 2006, Smackdown moved to the CW. Technically this was still considered a “network” but had far less penetration than UPN and the viewership numbers declined again.

During this time, the brand split gradually faded and the show was becoming more of a “B” show. In addition, WWE had revived the ECW brand, and the SyFy network had picked up that show. In 2008, Smackdown moved to another new network, MyNetworkTV. The premiere episode did 3.2 million viewers for a supershow featuring wrestlers from all 3 brands. While numbers were down for Smackdown it was still the highest rated show in MyNetworkTV history.

There was yet another move for Smackdown in 2010 as SyFy picked up the show after it was not renewed for the fall season by MyNetworkTV. While it was still the highest rated show on the network, the network was hemorrhaging money and the show was too expensive to retain. In 2011, the brand extension officially ended and wrestlers from RAW and Smackdown were able to appear on both shows (even though they’d already been doing that for years).

In 2015, SyFy announced that it was moving Smackdown back to it’s original Thursday night timeslot. This was expected to increase the viewership of the show as Thursday is traditionally a much more popular night for television viewing. This did not materialize as numbers continued to slide at a similar rate as on Monday Night RAW to get to the current 2.1 million level.

The move to USA network is expected to be accompanied by a renewed focus from WWE on the show to make it more relevant and a subsequent increase in TV viewers is the hoped for result.