WWE Raw: Re-Booking the 3-Hour Show to Prevent a WrestleMania Hangover
After a few months of record-low television ratings, it seems that WWE Raw has gained a substantial number of viewers in recent weeks. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why ratings have rebounded. WWE has featured The Rock in some of its post-Royal Rumble shows, and it has also re-introduced Brock Lesnar to the mix. Many analysts attribute the rise in ratings directly to appearances by Rock.
According to PW Torch Assistant Editor James Caldwell, WWE's use of Rock and other luminaries is creating mainstream buzz.
Excellent rating for this show. There is so much anecdotal evidence out there that The Rock is creating exposure for WWE, which means people are flocking to Raw to see what's happening, even if he's not on the show. Rock appearing in three Super Bowl commercials the night before, plus people tuning in for Bruno Sammartino's Hall of Fame announcement helped drive a strong rating this week.
Caldwell notes other trends in his piece, including the fact that this week's Raw outstripped the ratings for the same show a year ago.
Since Rock and Brock are both scheduled for a number of TV appearances leading up to WrestleMania 29, it seems safe to say that ratings for the next few months should stay at a decent level.
The problem for WWE is that Rock will most likely leave for several months following WrestleMania. Lesnar, though under contract for two years, will only make sporadic TV appearances. Once Brock and Rock are gone, how will WWE manage to keep ratings from tanking again?
The following slides depict a plan to re-book the three-hour Raw in order to prevent a post-WrestleMania ratings hangover.
Overall Show Structure
Even during the low ratings periods, Raw seems to start out fine.
Ratings for the first hour of the show are typically strong. The numbers tend to dip a little bit during the second hour, and then fall off precipitously during the final hour.
The problem for WWE is in keeping the audience in place throughout all three hours of each week's broadcast.
According to Caldwell, the loss of viewers during the third hour isn't a recent trend.
It was the fourth consecutive week that Raw's third hour audience has dropped off from the second hour. It also marks 27 weeks out of 29 weeks during the three-hour Raw era where that has happened.
The last seven months of ratings analysis show that Raw's three-hour format is causing viewers to tune out before they even reach the main event at the end of the third hour.
One way to keep viewers tuned in for all three hours is to change the way the entire show is formatted.
It makes perfect sense to do a few of the things that WWE's creative team is already doing. Starting the show off with a hot angle will keep viewers tuned in. Ending each hour with a high-profile match or segment gives the audience something to look forward to.
The question is how to get viewers to stay from the first segment to the show's close.
One way to do this would be to use the first hour of the show to set up major events happening later in the broadcast. While this is done, to an extent, in the current format, emphasizing the teases for upcoming events would help even more—particularly if there were more highlights to promote.
The second hour of Raw should be booked more like WWE's Wednesday-night show, Main Event. That hour should focus on one high-profile match that will take place during the second half of the hour. Use the time to give background on the wrestlers competing in the match, review the storyline for the bout and hype the contest as something that viewers absolutely must see.
In essence, the second hour of Raw could be booked like a show within a show. This would keep viewers tuned in for the all-important third hour (teased heavily in the first hour and mentioned during the second hour), while keeping them entertained during the middle of the show.
In order to keep viewers in front of their TVs, WWE needs to tease to events that will be taking place later in the show.
In order for this strategy to be effective, there have to be events worth staying tuned for.
WWE has a vast film library. One thing they could do to increase viewership is to highlight some of the content from that library. Each week, Raw could feature one match or event from its storied past, like they do on WWE Classics on Demand.
There are almost unlimited uses for this video library. When hyping a new entrant to the Hall of Fame, WWE could show all or part of a match featuring the new inductee. How many of the current WWE fans have ever seen Bruno Sammartino wrestle? This would also open up the possibility of showing fans matches from the Attitude Era and famous vignettes from Raw history. If WWE made better use of this video library, it might draw more subscribers to its on-demand service. It would also educate the existing audience while possibly bringing back fans who stopped watching the product years ago.
WWE could also look to its developmental territory, NXT, for content. Lately, a slew of developmental talent has found its way onto the main roster. Over the past few months, fans have been introduced to Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns of The Shield, Big E Langston and Bo Dallas. While The Shield has had a big impact on the TV product, Langston and Dallas have enjoyed only fleeting moments in the spotlight. By presenting some of this young talent in a weekly spotlight match, WWE could raise interest in future stars and make fans more familiar with the talent on the way. When someone did debut, he wouldn't be a stranger to the WWE Universe.
The second hour of the show could become a spotlight for a re-instituted Cruiserweight Division. If a big star or two, such as Rey Mysterio or Daniel Bryan were placed in this division, fan interest would remain high. Re-starting the Cruiserweight Division would provide WWE with high-impact, entertaining matches, spotlight wrestlers who haven't had much TV exposure and give some structure to the show. As WCW proved during it's dominant ratings run, properly-booked Cruiserweight matches can draw ratings and keep fans tuned in.
One of the reasons that fans are tuning out during Raw is that they don't have much to look forward to. Instituting some regular, and interesting, new features to the show would keep fans glued to the TV.
Cast a True Authority Figure
During the Attitude Era, Raw enjoyed higher TV ratings than at any time in its history.
One of the biggest reasons that fans tuned in was to see the confrontations between Vince McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Fans like to see stars battle the powers that be. Whether the boss is a babyface or a heel, workplace drama equals ratings on WWE TV—provided the person in power is credible and interesting.
Right now, Vickie Guerrero, cast as Raw's managing supervisor, is neither credible nor particularly interesting as a power figure. Wrestlers mock her, ignore her or generally refuse to regard her as someone who could fire them at any moment.
WWE needs to replace Vickie at the top of the power structure. If there were a true authority figure in place, it would open the door for numerous storylines.
It doesn't really matter if the new GM is a babyface or a heel. Mick Foley was a success as a babyface GM. McMahon was the best heel authority figure in the history of professional wrestling.
Placing a true power broker in charge would give focus to the show, and provide fans with someone to root for (or against). A GM who actually wields power over the program is a must.
Use Less Filler
While the WWE audience is typically fairly young, it doesn't suffer from any type of memory disorder as a general rule.
One of the most annoying elements of the current three-hour format is the continual use of recaps throughout the show. Some segments are recapped as many as three or four times over the course of a broadcast. Some of the recaps even come immediately after the event in question occurred.
As Tony Acero points out on 411.mania.com, the amount of recapping on each show can become more distracting than instructive.
RECAP CITY: Far too many recaps in this week's episode, and considering it's Mania season, I fear we'll be getting this a lot more. But with just under 20 minutes of advertising or recapping of earlier events, last week's events, etc. there was plenty of times where I felt other matches could have used this to their advantage and were cut short due to it. Timing is everything, and these things - mostly - take away from the show more than add to it.
There's a significant difference between analyzing something that just happened and simply showing it again and commenting that it took place. Right now, Michael Cole and Co. spend a lot of time re-iterating what the audience just saw.
Highlight the Secondary Titles
Championship matches are good for ratings. While it's impractical to expect WWE to put the World Heavyweight championship or WWE title up for grabs on each week's Raw, there are other belts that could be defended.
Even without re-establishing the Cruiserweight Division, WWE has plenty of other titles that could be featured as part of each week's broadcast.
If each show featured a championship match with the Tag Team titles, Intercontinental championship, Divas championship or United States belt on the line, fans would have a meaningful match to look forward to.
In the past, these secondary titles used to matter. Not only did big-name wrestlers battle for the belts, but the matches were often the main events on Raw and even on pay-per-view broadcasts. Even in undercard matches, these bouts often stole the show. No one who saw WrestlemMania 3 will ever forget Randy Savage battling Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental belt.
Even now, some of the secondary champions are among the best characters on WWE television. Current U.S. champion Antonio Cesaro is a legitimate star in the making. Intercontinental champ Wade Barrett is continually touted as a future World Champion.
Putting these secondary titles in featured spots on Raw would raise the prestige of the belts. In turn, matches featuring these titles would become destination television.
While many analysts cite the three-hour format as Raw's biggest ratings problem, it's not the length of the show that's the problem. It's the content.
If the overall structure of the show were revamped, substantial content added, a true authority figure added and the secondary titles highlighted, viewers would be more likely to tune in and stay tuned in.
There would be less need for recaps, filler and pointless comedy segments. Most of these things are what turn fans off in the first place.
Do you agree with this plan to keep Raw out of the ratings doldrums? Have some ideas of your own? Just think the show needs to go back to two hours? Speak your mind in the comments section below.