WWE Pins an ITV PPV

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Attempting to spur pay-per-view buys, World Wrestling Entertainment will give viewers the opportunity to influence action inside the ring for its Oct. 19 event.

The interactive PPV plan comes as the grappling group shops its Monday Night Raw basic-cable franchise around to several networks ahead of the September 2005 expiration of its agreement with Viacom Inc.-owned Spike TV, according to WWE executives.

Subscribers who log on to the WWE Web site (www.wwe.com) during the event can vote on a number of the PPV event’s matches — including who will challenge the organization’s heavyweight champion, Triple H, as well as the attire of the WWE Divas appearing in another contest.

“Our fans have always been seeking ways to touch and feel and get involved with product that we put out there,” said WWE vice president of marketing Dan Levi. “By creating an interactive event, it’s giving them something that they’ve never had before, which is an opportunity to directly influence what happens in our PPV events.”

Levi would not project how many consumers would purchase the rare Tuesday night PPV event or participate via the Internet. “We’re taking a very pragmatic approach to this, which is to have high hopes but realistic expectations about a new event,” he said.

WWE fans will have to watch Spike TV’s Oct. 18 Raw telecast to determine the potential opponents for WWE champion Triple H. Levi hopes the immediacy created through Raw’s promotion will spur PPV buys for the event, retailing at a suggested price of $34.95.

WWE is also betting the interactive PPV component will drive additional marketing for the event from operators looking both to maximize buys and promote broadband services.

“We were looking at how to build the strongest relationships with our affiliates and how our affiliates continue to see WWE as a partner for our business,” Levi said.

While WWE has yet to set another interactive PPV event, he said the company may consider the concept again in the near future.

On the basic-cable mat, WWE executives confirmed that they have spoken to several networks about the possibility of moving Raw from Spike TV when the WWE’s deal with Viacom Inc. expires next September. Despite a decline in recent years, Raw remains one of the highest-rated weekly franchises on cable. Through Oct. 11, Raw is averaging a 3.7 household rating for Spike, well above the network’s 1.0 third quarter primetime mark.

WWE spokesman Gary Davis, without identifying the parties, said talks have taken place with a number of networks. Sources close to the situation said Turner Network Television — which last offered professional wrestling in 2000 — and USA Network, which carried Raw before Spike grabbed it in 2000, are considered the early front-runners. A TNT spokeswoman, however, said the “drama” network was “not interested” in WWE programming.

“It’s really due diligence to go out and make sure we’ve looked at all the possible opportunities that are available to Raw,” said Davis. “We’re very happy with Spike and working with Viacom, but we owe it to our shareholders to test the waters with other networks to see what interest there is out there.”

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