USA is about to flip WWE fans’ expectations for one of the wrestling programs it airs every week.
“Smackdown,” which moved to the NBCUniversal-owned outlet from sister Syfy in January, will be broadcast live for two hours every week starting Tuesday, July 19, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., resulting in five hours of live WWE programming on the network each week.
“There is a huge appetite among our viewers for live programming and the ability to move ‘Smackdown’ to a live format brings a new level of excitement and helps truly eventize this every week,” said Chris McCumber, president of entertainment networks at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, in a prepared statement.
The move reflects a growing desire by TV networks to find more ways to air content that needs to be seen as it airs, rather than days or weeks later via a DVR or video on demand. Networks like NBC and Fox have turned live broadcasts of favorite Broadway plays into high-rated events, and many broadcast and cable outlets have placed more emphasis on securing rights to top sports events like the Olympics or the NCAA men’s basketball championships.
Viewers who tune in to these live “spectaculars” can’t zap the commercials that support the programs, and marketers seem willing to pay a premium to appear in such stuff. Last season, NBC even ran a live, weekly program in which Neil Patrick Harris attempted zany stunts, did musical numbers and clowned around with celebrity guests.
With the three-hour “Raw” airing on Monday, USA will feature five hours of live WWE wrestling each week. Both programs will air live 52 weeks a year.
The debut of a live “Smackdown” comes as two of the WWE’s biggest attractions, John Cena and Seth Rollins, are returning to competition from injuries. And the company is expected to create strong points of differentiation between “Smackdown” and USA’s other live program, “Monday Night Raw,” according to the WWE. 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.
“WWE’s flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV,” said Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of WWE, in a statement. “This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world.”
WWE and NBCU renewed a programming deal in 2014 that kept the shows on the air. In 2015, the two companies arranged a closer relationship to market both “Smackdown” and “Raw,” in hopes of capturing interest from a broader array of advertisers. Season to date, “Smackdown” has captured n 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 attracted an average of about 1.85 million.