Tonight on USA Network, WWE will air the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw, its 19-year-old live series — an unprecedented mark in television history
and another milestone for the sports-entertainment company and its iconic leader, chairman and CEO Vince McMahon.
The WWE’s multiplatform television/video business is now a major growth area for the publicly traded company, and it’s where the 66-year-old
McMahon spends much of his time producing shows and writing storylines for the company’s numerous television ventures.
Since he bought the assets of his wrestling-promoter father Vincent J. McMahon’s Capitol Wrestling company — which operated WWE’s
predecessor, the World Wide Wrestling Federation — in 1982, the junior McMahon has helped build a multimedia, multiplatform empire
that is virtually unrivaled in the entertainment business.
McMahon exploited what had been a mostly regional, live-event wrestling business on cable in the 1980s and 1990s, giving national exposure to
the WWE’s colorful array of athletes/entertainers. McMahon’s bootstrapping business catapulted the WWE’s brand while body-slamming or buying nearly
all competitors that dared get in his way, including Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 2001.
McMahon’s product at first seems like a campy act with flamboyant, often flying, muscle-bound athletes taking a choreographed pounding from each
other in the ring. But the genius is the storylines, bringing fans back for more. WWE started today’s pay-per-view event business in the 1980s with live
shows like Wrestlemania, which continue to deliver knockout revenue numbers to distributors.
Since 2000, WWE pay-per-views have generated an average of approximately $95 million in revenue and 5 million buys annually, according to the company.
Wrestlemania XXVIII this past April generated more than 1.3 million PPV buys, according to company officials.
On the eve of the Raw milestone, Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead and editor in chief Mark Robichaux spoke with McMahon
at WWE’s Stamford, Conn., headquarters. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: The WWE became a public company almost 13 years
ago. How has that affected your business outlook?
Vince McMahon: I don’t think it’s changed the television shows
as far as building characters and things of that nature. It has
helped us become better business people. I’ve always been
relatively intelligent in running the business with my head but
when it was a private company, I ran it way too much with my
heart. As a public company, business is business and with a
board directors and stockholders, it’s like, “OK, what’s the bottom
line?” It really changes the way that you do business. It’s
less emotional. Not that there’s not as much emotion into the
product itself — there’s every bit as much of the passion that
we’ve always had into the product — it’s just the business of the
business changes, which is really helpful actually.
MCN: Compared to the other business divisions within the
WWE — live events, pay-per-view, studios – where does the
TV business rank in the WWE brand?
VM: Television is a global property. It’s easily understood. I
guess [the WWE shows are] maybe the only variety
shows on television today and that has appeal as
well. It’s part rock ‘n’ roll, its part theatrical with
pyrotechnics and lights and its action. It’s just a lot
of things rolled into this. And it’s unique; there is
nothing like it anywhere in the world, so that certainly
helps us in terms of our success nationally as
well as on a global basis. It’s a very unique product.
MCN: How has the discussion of a WWE Network
helped the bottom line of the business?
VM: I think everyone’s really interested in what
we’re going to do. It’s one of those things whereby
we have probably too many choices and we’re doing
so much research now. Because of the power of the
brand, which everyone recognizes, and what we do with all of
our programming — we create our own programming and own
our own intellectual property, which is unique — it’s a question
of whether or not we want to do [a network] and what model
do we want to follow.
MCN: Whether it’s a model of owning your own network, or
putting content on another network?
VM: Right. It will be a hybrid in order to promote whatever
it is we’re doing, whether it’s a magazine or a T-shirt or a payper-
view or another network, you need as broad a platform as
possible for shows like [USA Network’s] Monday Night Raw or
[Syfy’s] Smackdown and things of that nature. They are the two
building blocks basically that we promote everything off of.
MCN: Let me ask you straight up: When are we going to see a
VM: I don’t want to commit to a time, you know, because it’s
probably not a good idea for us to do that. I’d rather not say.
MCN: As you know, Oprah Winfrey launched a network,
which is struggling. What makes you think that you will be
more successful in the network business?
VM: Well I think the huge problem with Oprah, as far as the
numbers are concerned, is it’s not Oprah. I mean she went
from a broadcast platform basically with huge numbers into
something that really wasn’t a brand. Oprah herself is a brand.
Anything beyond herself is not a brand. … So the very thing
that catapulted her into stardom year after year was not on her
network. Certainly, we’re not goning to make that mistake.
MCN: You recently invested in Tout Industries. Most people
had never heard of it before. How do you make that work
given that social media is such a tough business, particularly
on the financial side?
VM: Well, first and foremost, unlike some of the other video
services, Tout allows you to aggregate what you create. Tout
was pretty smart to say, “OK, whatever it is you
guys do, you own it and it comes straight to you.”
We chose actually to do business with Tout prior
to investing it. It made sense for our audience to
interact and I think that is such a huge key to successful
programming these days.
On July 23, when we do our 1,000th edition of
Monday Night Raw, we’re going to start some of
this interaction with Tout, which gives in real time
the ability for someone who has an opinion to
shoot a video and it’ll go right on-air live.
MCN: You’ve mentioned the 1,00th episode of
Raw. As someone who has wanted to be in this
industry since you were I think 12 years old, according
to the Internet, what does it mean to you personally
to have reached an unprecedented TV milestone?
VM: It means personally to me that it’s an opportunity to do
the 1,001st episode, and two and three, and so on.
MCN: Monday Night Raw is averaging 4 million viewers on one
of the most competitive nights in cable, and a lot of people say,
“I don’t get it.” Why has that franchise been so successful for so
VM: Most of those people have never sampled our show and
have never been to a live event. Once you do come to a live
event and/or watch a significant portion of our programming
it’s so different and it is exciting.
Raw is live and there aren’t many live programs on these days
from an entertainment standpoint. Sports, yes, but you have
very few live entertainment programs. The 1,000th episode is
more of a celebration, I guess, for our audience as well as our
MCN: And you’re personally there helping
produce each one of those shows?
VM: I’m right there. I used to sometimes
be a talent too.
MCN: Do you still feel the need to get in
the ring on the television shows?
VM: No, my God, no. Definitely not. I
really didn’t feel the need then. It helped
the show somewhat in terms of the character
at the time. I much prefer producing
and directing, being on the other side of
MCN: Are you actively involved in
VM: Considerably. (Laughter)
MCN: You are extending Raw from two to three hours starting
next week. You have a two-hour SmackDown weekly
series on Syfy, you’re launching a new series on Ion this Fall.
You offer monthly PPV events. Do you ever consider that
there might be an oversaturation of the WWE content in the
VM: No, it really doesn’t when you consider the demand for
the product. Do I expect everyone to sit down and watch
three hours of Monday Night Raw? No. No one watches television
that way anymore, no matter what the program. You’re
sampling, you’re going, “Oh, this is pretty good but, oh, that’s
right, that’s on another channel.”
You’re all over the lot, and it’s not obviously just television;
whether or not you’re online or both, you’re everywhere now
across these entertainment platforms. So it’s important that
we be where people can reach us when they want to.
MCN: You mentioned broadcast syndication was where you
started. Does the new Ion show, Main Event, bring the WWE
VM: It does. It’s kind of cool, actually. … It’s a night of the
week that we’re not on the air, Wednesday night, and it’s
another opportunity for us to prove ourself. I mean there is no
question that we’ll be the No. 1 show on Ion probably the very
first week we go on the air.
MCN: That’s a little like Joe Namath calling the game, huh?
VM: No, no, no, that’s really not Joe Namath. Those are the
facts when you look back on every network we’ve ever gone
on. From week one, generally, sometimes it took us three
weeks, we were the No. 1 show.
MCN: Shifting to pay-per-view a little bit, in this environment,
when your fans have so many choices through TV, online and
social media to experience WWE product, does pay-per-view
still fit into the overall development of the television business?
VM: It’s important to us. We had a record Wrestlemania this
year, more than ever. Our pay-per-views subsequent to that
have been up 30%. So it really is the right product at the right
time. And if you give value to your customer, which is something
we have always been so concerned with, we’d like to
consider ourselves the best value in entertainment. And I tell
everybody inside that’s who we are, whether you come to a
live event in terms of pricing, pay-per-view in terms of pricing
and how many people watch at home.
Unlike boxing or probably [the Ultimate Fighting Championship],
they can do probably more pay-per-view buys sometimes,
but because not many people watch together, it’s not a communal
type of programming. Ours is. You know, the neighborhood
will come over, and so and so is buying pay-per-view, it’s a party.
MCN: What about competition? Do you see the UFC —
which has gained mainstream appeal — as competitors, and
if not, who is your competition?
VM: They are not our competition. They’re competition to
boxing, but they’re not our competition. We’re in the entertainment
business and they are in the sports business. I think
they’ve tried to copy somewhat of our model, no doubt about
that. As an entertainment property, our competition really is
everything else that’s out there.
MCN: How big of a business do you foresee in original movies?
VM: I think it’s gonna be really big for us. We’ve paid our
dues, as everyone has to, coming into the business. … Right
now, we’re at pretty much a break-even kind of a deal, which
is great. And I think under the leadership of [WWE Studios
president] Michael Luisi, who has been a huge find for us, I
really think we’re poised now. We are partners with so many
people now, which was a new way of looking at the film business.
That way, you get more bang for your buck.
MCN: How do you spend most of your hours now, aside
from worrying about the stock price?
VM: Oh, I don’t worry about the stock price — by the way,
I never do. I know what we’re gonna do from a long-term
standpoint, I know what the business opportunities are, and I
feel good about ’em.