Professional wrestling is a constantly evolving spectacle.
From the carny shows and open challenges at the marketplace, to territorial promotions—each with their own champions—to a national alliance of territories to the global stage, it has evolved incorporating more styles in the ring and a lot more theater outside of it.
No one can dispute that WWE is the global leader in its genre, as it airs in every continent and just about every country in the world.
Over the past 20 years or so, I have personally witnessed a great change in what still is my favorite sport. It has changed from a basic showdown of the "big" guys—Hogan and Andre, anyone—to a more entertainment-oriented and technical programming.
Like many fans, I regard the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era as the peak of its entertainment years. And, the Ruthless Aggression Era that followed was the time when multiple different styles existed under one roof to provide some of the most technically diverse matches in the ring.
Now, in a PG-era, which has been much criticized by the fans—many of whom live in the Internets—the undisputed leading company will be the main player in choosing the future of the company. While WWE might almost be a monopoly in its niche, it still faces stiff competition. The competition, however, has changed.
While professional wrestling promotions were only battling each other in the past, now they have to compete with both sports and entertainment programming across television networks and the Internet.
The lack of an offseason means that companies have to compete with different types of programming in the same airtime slots at different times of the year. At the risk of losing regular fans, they dare not change airtime on the basis of seasonal competition alone.
WWE now directly competes with mixed martial arts—especially the UFC—in the pay-per-view scene and also on regular television. While both sides usually proclaim that they are vastly different entities, those differences are not very apparent to the casual viewer, who does not invest too much in storylines or follow the Internet dirt sheets.
It competes with mainstream sports—notably NFL in the United States, but various other sports in different countries, especially where WWE airs primarily on sports networks—for the same viewers.
And, since it is an entertainment entity, it competes with all the variations of entertainment programs(reality TV, episodic series, game shows etc.) as well as cinemas—people must have often debated whether they would rather watch the new Spider-Man movie or the upcoming WWE pay-per-view—and live entertainment like concerts and the aforementioned sports events.
One cannot help but sense that another evolution in professional wrestling is inevitable if it is to be able to compete with other forms of sports and entertainment. With the advent of the PG era, WWE also directly competes with children's shows for a slice of the demographic.
While I did watch professional wrestling as a child, it wasn't the highly colorful, High Definition show with so much music and pyrotechnics.
But, this evolution has upset many older fans, many of whom would prefer a more technical, more edgy and less gaudy show. A lot of the Attitude Era demographic—my peers—have shifted to watching UFC for their fix of combat sports. And, why not—it has a lot of the same aspects—brutality, suddenness, blood—that made the Attitude Era spectacular in the first place.
And let me tell you, if they cross the already looming line with Hornswoggle or Santino Marella's "Cobra," I would consider watching something else instead.
But, I am not the target demographic. And I accept that. Targeting the children is a risky method, however. If done correctly, it can make life-long viewers. If not, the children may themselves grow out of the show in a couple years.
The entertainment has to be transitional, so that people on all stages of life—children, adolescent and adults—can watch it and be entertained without getting their intelligence insulted.
And with that, I come to my prediction on how things will change over the next decade.
WWE will certainly realize that a single show cannot cater to the whole fanbase. There are too many demographic groups that will slowly be alienated if a single format of programming is pushed without considering the alternatives.
WWE's main programming (RAW and SmackDown) will continue to cater to the kids—Linda McMahon, the Be A Star campaign and the PG Era will help ensure it. However, the last third of RAW—the main-event slot of the three-hour event—will probably start being less childish and more generalized.
This will come as a result of children either going to bed or getting attention-deficit after two hours and watching something else. So, the show will try to pull in other viewers to maintain ratings in the final third.
But, there will probably be another show aimed predominantly for the children, with a lot more colors, masks and gimmick characters than today's programming. This will have to air earlier in order to get more children to watch. WWE FunZone will be a fun affair with lots of song and dance. And jokes. And, as Nickelodeon taught me about kids' shows, it will probably have a lot of green slime.
Also, WWE's other programming will slowly evolve in order to target other age groups. And, to be honest, that has already begun.
NXT is already orienting itself more towards the adolescent and young adult groups. It has more technical contests and is less of a—to paraphrase John "Bradshaw" Layfield— "Bling-bling sideshow." It doesn't have an abusive HD set and vibrant colors like its affluent sister-shows. It has more of the Attitude Era look-and-feel than RAW and/or SmackDown.
While NXT will probably not be quite as extreme as the Attitude Era, it will have more mature themes in its programming than other WWE shows. We can expect this trend to lead to WWE incorporating stars and feuds from this show into its pay-per-view programming as well.
The older adult group—40 and above—will probably be targeted by airing more traditional content. This can be done by shows that relive history—think Vintage Collection and WWE Legends—coupled with occasional emulations of the past, which will probably air as stand-alone TV specials or pay-per-views that incorporate historical aspects of the sport of professional wrestling.
Whether it will be successful depends on how how badly this demographic feels alienated by the current brand of pro-wrestling.
WWE will also begin to target female audiences more. While the PG aims to encourage families to enjoy the show together, it still does not cater to the members of the fairer sex that do not much care for John Cena. The young female—adolescent and young adult—is usually interested in romantic and reality TV themed programming.
With WWE trying to increase viewers, this avenue will probably be the new thing in its arsenal. (On a side note, this might lead to the emergence of a reality show featuring couples/mixed tag-teams trying to make it big!)
So, how will sports entertainment and professional wrestling change in the next decade? It will not be something drastically different from what we have had in the span of the last 20 years. No, but it will have more thematically different shows aimed at different audiences.
Whether it comes as a result of the WWE Network or otherwise, we should see a variation in shows as the company begins to cater to different age and gender groups with different shows, with occasional cross-overs to increase interest.
What about the use (or abuse) of social media? It won't go away anytime soon. But, shows will begin to use different media depending on their target demographic's preference. Twitter may be predominant on one show, while Tout rules another. WWE will probably have different forums for different shows and viewer groups in order to encourage more interactions.
As a whole, this can only be good news. With specific shows catering to specific groups, I wouldn't have to be up in arms over Hornswoggle becoming the FunZone Champion. And, Jerry Lawler could, once again, say "Puppies!"on the adolescent-oriented shows.