Has WWE Ruined NXT by Moving to USA Network and Creating AEW Ratings War?
On October 2, 2019, All Elite Wrestling aired the first episode of Dynamite on TNT. On the same night, the first full episode of NXT aired on USA. This kicked off what has become known as the Wednesday Night War.
While AEW's show was brand new, NXT had already been around for several years on WWE Network, so it had more established stars and more time to build up a fanbase.
Not only did the show move to a new network, but it also expanded to two hours in the same exact timeslot as Dynamite.
There are obvious benefits to airing NXT on USA, but there are also downsides that some fans feel have tarnished the reputation of what was once considered WWE's most exciting brand.
Let's look at some ways moving to USA has helped, some ways it has hurt the show and whether the move has ruined the black-and-gold brand.
Yes: The Pressure of Ratings
One of the biggest changes NXT has had to deal with is the difference between being on a company-owned streaming service and being on a cable television network. Once the show moved to USA, ratings became a factor.
NXT was designed to be WWE's developmental show. Talents were able to hone their skills and perfect their craft without having to worry about how many people were watching. They were able to develop their characters, try new things and, if necessary, fail so they could learn from their mistakes.
Now, talents on NXT are expected to be as polished and skilled as those on Raw and SmackDown. Management may not have those expectations, but many fans certainly do.
That kind of pressure is going to change how the Superstars approach their job. Matches will be more meticulously planned in advance, promos will be more scripted, and if talents are not immediately up to the task, they might not appear on TV for months at a time.
No: More Time for Exposure
By moving to a two-hour format on USA, WWE increased the amount of time it has to give the men and women more exposure by 100 percent.
NXT used to only be an hour, so there was only so much management could fit into one episode. There were usually three or four matches and a couple of promos.
Having less time meant some storylines were only addressed every other week and the top champions appeared on fewer episodes.
Young stars have a greater opportunity to tell meaningful stories if they are told in consecutive chapters, WWE can fit more feuds into a shorter period of time and more stars can cycle in and out of storylines.
Look at Cameron Grimes. He has been a regular fixture on NXT almost every week in recent months, and that would not have been possible with the old format. Every time he wrestles, he impresses a few more people and builds up more goodwill in the WWE Universe.
Yes: It Feels More Like the Other Shows
When NXT aired on WWE Network, it genuinely felt like its own separate entity. It had its own feel, its own look and its own atmosphere. Once it moved to USA, a lot of that was stripped away.
The show has taken on a more polished look and become similar to Raw and SmackDown in a lot of ways because it went from being the show used to train wrestlers for the main roster to being just as visible as the red and blue brands.
To WWE's credit, some of the more recent changes have not been by choice. Once the pandemic hit, every show was filmed in the Performance Center before NXT moved back to Full Sail and the other shows moved into the Thunderdome.
Even after moving out of the newly renamed Capitol Wrestling Center, NXT still feels similar to the other brands. It has lost some of what once made it unique, and it may never be able to get it back.
No: Competition Is Good for Business
Believe it or not, AEW competing with NXT is a good thing for a number of reasons. Competition was what drove pro wrestling to reach new heights of popularity during the Monday Night War with WCW.
By having two shows go head-to-head, WWE and AEW have prevented themselves from becoming complacent because every week is important. When one company does something special, the other responds.
When AEW held it's two-week Fyter Fest event on July 1 and 8, WWE held The Great American Bash on NXT to counterprogram the competitors. Both shows led to some fun moments and great matches.
A lot of wrestling fans watch both shows every week, so the decision comes down to which show to watch live. Even though DVR numbers are counted, the live rating is still what matters most.
The other great thing about competition is it gives fans multiple options. When it comes to Raw, if someone doesn't like what they see, they may just turn it off for the night. On Wednesdays, they have a second wrestling show they can switch between if one program does not give them what they want.
If someone switches from NXT to AEW, they are more likely to come back to NXT at some point that evening. If SmackDown gets turned off, it probably stays off.
The decision to move NXT to USA has had its pros and cons from the start. WWE always knew this would be a gamble, but there was definitely more reason behind the move than simply competing with AEW.
For one thing, WWE gets more revenue from airing the show on cable than it would by just showing it on their own subscription service, especially if people did not cancel their memberships just because they can watch the black-and-gold brand on TV every week.
The biggest downside is the loss of individual identity NXT once had. The one saving grace has been WWE keeping the TakeOver specials separate from the other WWE pay-per-views.
In the end, NXT is a fundamentally different show than it was two years ago but that is not necessarily a bad thing. While it has lost some of its unique appeal, moving to USA did not ruin NXT. It just changed.
Take Wednesday's Halloween Havoc special for example. It was an entertaining theme show with some great matches that we might not have gotten on WWE Network with just one hour to work with.
Everyone is going to have their own opinion about whether NXT has gotten better or worse over the past year, but the real strength of this brand has always been the performers on the roster, and that hasn't changed.