Facebook's answer to Netflix scores a new show, as WWE continues to experiment with new ways to broadcast its events.
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Three years ago, the World Wrestling Entertainment took all of its monthly pay-per-view events and put them on its own streaming service, the WWE Network. Now, the company is flirting with another type of streaming.
The show, which will launch on Jan. 16, will see 12 grapplers from each of the company's brands, Raw and SmackDown, compete against each other in a tag-team tournament. The winning team wins $100,000, which will be donated to a charity of their choice. The mixed-gender matches will include some of WWE's biggest stars, including Braun Strowman, Charlotte Flair and Finn Balor.
"Mixed Match Challenge" could be a testing of the waters for the company, whose television contract for Raw and SmackDown with the USA Network is up in 2019.
"We believe WWE is being significantly underpaid in its current Raw/SmackDown deal," media analyst Brendan Ross wrote in a BITG report back in June, according to Decider. USA is estimated to pay WWE $140 million per year for 260 hours of television, while Ross estimated a deal with Facebook, or competitors like Twitter and Amazon, could be worth around $400 million.
It wouldn't be the first time Facebook offered big bucks, as in September it made a $610 million offer for the rights to stream the Indian Premier League's cricket matches for five years, though it was outbid by 21st Century Fox's Star India. Meanwhile, in April the NFL struck a $50 million deal with Amazon to stream 10 "Thursday Night Football" games. The trend of sports officially streaming on social media continued in July, when the NBA inked a deal to air pregame shows on Twitter.
Paid subscriber levels for the WWE Network have levelled out in the last year, making broadcast fees, its other main key revenue generator, even more essential.
"The whole key is to get the price up, because that contract is the key to future growth," said the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer, who has reported on the company for 30 years. "Live events are stagnant and the Network's increases are very small year-over-year, so to improve numbers and profits it's all about television rights fees continuing to increase."
We'll see in 2019 if the best way to increase that fee is by turning "television rights" into "streaming rights."
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