According to James Caldwell of PWTorch.com via sister site ProWrestling.net, WWE's preliminary estimate for Survivor Series is 280,000 buys worldwide. This is up from 244,000 last year (John Cena firing stipulation) and 235,000 buys in 2009 (John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H buildup with lame comedy segments), but it has to be considered a disappointment for the show featuring the in-ring return of The Rock.
On one hand, no, the match itself (Rock and Cena vs. The Miz and R-Truth) wasn't promoted very well. On the other hand, it was still The Rock's in-ring return.
Personally, I feel like this is the definitive proof that WWE's woes on pay-per-view in recent years are the result of charging too much for the shows in the U.S. and Canada. Generally speaking, the $44.95 to $55.95 asking price (depending on if your cable or satellite provider charges extra for the HD feed) is something the fanbase considers too much for everything other than WrestleMania.
On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, non-WrestleMania shows are £15, which is about $24 U.S. The price is similar in other countries with access to the shows that aren't in the U.S. and Canada. Still, the time difference keeps buys down, as the shows start at 1:00 a.m. in the UK and even later as you move into other time zones further east.
With WrestleMania, you're getting what WWE feels is its best lineup of the year with all sorts of special stuff thrown in. In addition, the wrestlers are amped up to steal the show. WWE has made it special enough that fans are willing to pay $54.95 to $64.95 (it's always a four-hour show at a higher price point nowadays) for it. Last year's show was the weakest WrestleMania in recent years (albeit a good show on paper), and it still did around 900,000 buys.
Other people will give different reasons for the performance of Survivor Series. There was a UFC pay-per-view event the night before. The Rock's match was poorly built up. The Rock needed stronger opponents anyway. And so on.
I just don't buy it. The Rock as WrestleMania host who might attack John Cena meant at least 200,000 buys (and probably more since the lineup was otherwise weaker than last year) to that show this year. His first match back should've done a lot more than boost Survivor Series 36,000 buys over last year, which was sold by a transparently phony stipulation that WWE was clearly going to renege on.
Unfortunately for WWE, Survivor Series isn't WrestleMania, and most fans are only willing to pay a premium for the latter. I'm sure piracy is a factor to some degree, but even if you disregard it, the pay-per-view event DVDs are available a month after the show for $20 retail and as low as about $14 "street price." That has to make a big difference, too.
If WWE is going to keep going with so many pay-per-view events, they need to do a lot of market research and figure out how much to charge for everything other than the Royal Rumble (which is still a major success, hovering in the 450,000-buy range) and WrestleMania.