This week saw a big surprise in the world of wrestling, and no, I’m not talking about whatever old-timers show up in this weekend’s Royal Rumble match. The WWE Network, the WWE’s streaming home since 2014, will no longer be a standalone streaming service in America, it was announced today. On March 18 the WWE Network will become exclusively available through Peacock, NBC Universal’s streaming service. That includes all live pay-per-view events, including WrestleMania, along with over 17,000 hours of wrestling content from the past and present. It’ll all be available for anybody who pays for either of Peacock’s premium tiers—$4.99 for ads, $9.99 without ads. That means WWE fans could save money, as they’ll have access to the network for only five bucks a month now.
It wasn’t cheap getting WWE to go for this deal. The Wall Street Journal reports that NBC Universal will be paying WWE more than $1 billion dollars over the next five years for the exclusive American rights to the WWE Network. This is a very good deal for WWE; the network had 1.137 million subscribers in the U.S. at the end of third quarter of 2020 (the last quarter we have information on), at a cost of $9.99 a month, and going off those numbers a deal that would bring the company over $200 million a year for the Network is a significant boost in revenue. The network’s subscription number fluctuates throughout the year, regularly growing in the first quarter during the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania season, before decreasing over the rest of the year, but even with those fluctuations the WWE Network has never shown revenue of $200 million in a year. And that includes all global markets, of which revenue exclusively from American subscribers is only a portion.
NBC Universal is clearly paying a premium in hopes of boosting Peacock’s subscriber base. It’s the same reason they paid half a billion dollars to bring The Office to Peacock, and why WarnerMedia paid almost as much to get Friends on HBO Max. Those were perennially two of the most popular shows on Netflix, and those companies assume paying for popular content like that will bring them subscribers. Clearly NBC Universal, who have been in business with WWE in one capacity or another for most of the last 40 years, believe exclusively WWE content will be a draw for potential subscribers. WWE’s terrestrial ratings have been declining for years, with that drop getting even faster in 2020, but they’ve been able to play the streaming content wars like a champ and extract a very big deal out of their long-time broadcast partner.
According to an NBC Universal press release, WWE will have its own on demand section in Peacock, as well as a full-time, 24/7 streaming channel through the service. In addition to new pay-per-views, Peacock will be the home for every WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-view from the past, along with other wrestling shows from WWE’s archives. It’ll also feature the original programming that currently exists on the WWE Network, including NXT (whose weekly show also airs on NBC Universal’s USA Network, opposite rival wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling), NXT U.K., 205 Live, and various documentary series like WWE 24 and WWE Untold. Recent episodes of Raw and Smackdown going up a few weeks after their cable premieres. Starting in 2022 Peacock will also be the exclusive home of “one signature documentary annually.”
This is clearly a win-win for WWE. Not only will they be pulling in more money per year from this deal than they were with the standalone WWE Network in America, but now people who don’t care enough about wrestling to subscribe to a wrestling-only service, but do subscribe to Peacock for The Office or current NBC programming, might wind up watching WWE’s stuff. Maybe it’ll even help grow the fanbase a bit—something that both WWE and wrestling in general probably need at this point.