How Live WWE ‘Smackdown’ Will Take Show’s TV Ratings to the Top Turnbuckle

Effort to “eventize” former “Monday Night Raw” afterthought should prove a big boon for USA Network

Last Updated: May 25, 2016 @ 4:00 PM

WWE and USA just tagged “Smackdown” in for the whole live-TV eventizing trend.

The little sister to pro-wrestling flagship show “Monday Night Raw” already recently moved from Syfy over to the larger USA Network, a successful effort to increase viewership. But Vince McMahon‘s company isn’t stopping there.

On Wednesday, the mammoth cable channel and its favorite programmer announced plans to run “Smackdown” live — just like “Raw” — and shift the show up to Tuesdays. The WWE will once-again split up its roster between the two weekly shows via a live draft, which will command lots of attention (and eyeballs) from those already energized over stars John Cena and Seth Rollins’ returns.

The scheduling shift itself should prove to be a longer-term big boon for everyone in the WWE Universe — both the rabid consumers and the for-profit companies pushing the product.

Here’s what two of those on the money-making side of that relationship said earlier today:

“The fan base for our WWE shows is one of the most passionate and engaged audiences in all of entertainment,” Chris McCumber, president, Entertainment Networks, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, said. “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.”

“WWE’s flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV,” WWE Chairman & CEO McMahon added. “This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world.”

“Smackdown,” which currently shoots its matches at live shows when it can — such as before “Raw” shows officially begin — had become a bit of an afterthought. It’s moved around from UPN and The CW to MyNetworkTV before making it to Syfy.

The spinoff show learned, however, that being pre-taped meant nothing of consequence could really happen in our spoiler-happy, social media-obsessed culture, as news simply wouldn’t hold until Thursday’s “Smackdown” airing. That became an issue when the WWE launched its own subscription-based over-the-top network, and began to program a pay-per-view one Sunday every month. “Smackdown” was then in this weird place where it was the last big WWE show to air before, say, “Wrestlemania,” but there was no ability to preserve drama for its time slot.

Say what you want about professional wrestling, but it lives and dies (or power-bombs and submits, if you will) on that drama.

Starting July 19, problem (more-or-less) solved. And with a rash of injuries, an “Attitude Era” fanbase aging out, and a stagnant stock price, the WWE could use fewer problems.

Year-to-date, “Monday Night Raw” has averaged 4.011 million total viewers — 1.846 million from the key 18-49 demographic and 1.873 million among those 25-54, per Nielsen’s Live + 7 Day ratings metric.

Meanwhile, “Smackdown” is averaging exactly one-third fewer overall eyeballs — 2.674 million total viewers, with 1.058 million from the younger demo, and 1.136 million from the older-shifted one. Both nights, USA has been the top cable entertainment network in both demos — but clearly, one of those is the real heavyweight champ.

While “Raw” will probably always have the advantage of being the main show, its late-running extra (and some would argue, excessive and unnecessary) hour at the tail-end of primetime works against it on an averaged-out basis. So when “Smackdown” joins the live genre, expect the gap between the two to really narrow — especially in Nielsen’s Live + Same Day viewership, which can still demand premium advertising rates. Not a bad consolation prize for those who miss the main roster — it’s kind of like the United States Championship belt.