The two big stories at the business end of WWE right now are the rise of WWE Network as a long-term replacement for pay-per-view and other forms of traditional distribution, and their efforts to boost revenue to unprecedented levels in securing a new domestic TV contract.
The latter is the big one: If WWE can double their money on a new deal, then the company will be more prosperous than ever before and would even be able to sustain losses in other departments as they grow the network, since the company would still be ridiculously profitable.
According to Bloomberg.com's Andy Fixmer and Scott Soshnick, in addition to renewal talks with Comcast (owners of USA Network, Syfy and E!), WWE has met with AMC Networks, Viacom, Turner Broadcasting (parent company of Bleacher Report), and 21st Century Fox. And the March 24 issue of Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WhatCulture.com) reported that WGN was also interested.
We look to be at most a couple weeks away from the "end of April or beginning of May" announcement forecast by WWE CFO George Barrios in the latter article, so where do things stand right now?
The only real hint we have comes from what's going on with TNA and Spike, since Spike (home of Raw from 2000-2005, a relationship that ended acrimoniously) is the most likely Viacom network to carry WWE if they were to make a deal with WWE.
According to the Wrestling Observer story and reported again this week by PWInsiderElite.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com), TNA's deal with Spike is up this fall and has yet to be renewed. It had already been renewed by this time last year.
Where it gets really interesting is that according to the April 7 issue of Wrestling Observer (h/t WrestlingInc.com), Jeff Jarrett's new Global Force Wrestling promotion can't negotiate with Spike due to the terms of his release from TNA. To me, that sure sounds like Spike is either in negotiations with WWE or won the bid and is finalizing a deal.
TNA ratings have been down at times as of late, but not enough to where Spike would drop them without replacing them with another wrestling show.
That conclusion makes a lot more sense when you factor in what Marc Graser of Variety reported in December: Bids for the WWE TV package were due on February 28, with WWE selecting their new partner by March 4.
Unless WWE pushed back its timeline, the winning bid should have effectively (as in they're just finalizing everything) been in place for close to two months now. That means that if Spike put in a bid and didn't get the deal, one would think that they'd know it and would've already renewed TNA's contract.
I'm just not sure what else this could mean. There is the possibility of something like Spike getting one show like SmackDown and USA Network keeping Monday Night Raw, instead of one company getting the whole package, but I honestly can't think of a reason for TNA not being renewed that doesn't involve Spike either making a deal with WWE or at least thinking they are.
Spike also has the unique attribute of being a network where SmackDown might be better off staying put, as a taped Friday show may be better for them than moving it to Tuesday to air live. Most networks would be most concerned about drawing more live viewers, thinking the show airing live will help in DVR-proofing SmackDown.
Spike, however, has Bellator MMA (which is a sister company, with Viacom owning both) on Friday nights, and SmackDown would be a fantastic lead-in to help them build a bigger audience. It was The Ultimate Fighter airing right after Raw on Spike that fueled its initial boom period, with Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell as the top stars.
Even if no WWE programming goes to Spike and Viacom just thinks they're still in the game for some reason, it's still great news for WWE.
The key is that they have multiple suitors, because that drives the price up, and if WWE doubles their rights fees as they hoped, WWE is going to be doing amazingly well for many years to come.
The big unanswered question is if Spike didn't land any WWE shows, then what the heck is going on? Why not renew TNA, which has a very loyal base audience?
I guess we'll find out within a few weeks.