It was July 23rd, 2012 when Monday Night Raw, the flagship program of World Wrestling Entertainment, went to a three hour long broadcast. The occasional extended Super Show notwithstanding, Raw was not consistently three hours long until this point. Allegedly, the USA Network pressed for the added third hour. The additional ad revenue surely amounts to millions. However, there have been some steep consequences for Monday Night Raw moving to three hours and it may be time for WWE and NBC/Universal to stop the bleeding.
The show being three hours is far from the only issue with Raw. There were many problems with WCW Monday Nitro in its heyday. Although that program enjoyed an 84 week winning streak over Monday Night Raw in the mid 1990s, that streak shortly came to an end in early 1998, not three months after Nitro went to three hours. In 2001, only three years after moving to a three hour broadcast, World Championship Wrestling went out of business. How could World Wrestling Entertainment not learn the lessons of a dead company whose remains they purchased?
One only needs to compare the two main WWE shows to see the difference. Yes, some may cite that SmackDown Live is better because it focuses on the wrestling instead of stupid comedy routines, though SmackDown has had its fair share of that in recent months (James Ellsworth). The primary reason that SmackDown feels like less of a hassle to watch is because it is only a two hour commitment and far fewer segments feel like filler.
If none of this can convince the ones drinking the Kool Aid of the WWE P.R. machine, then one need only point out the ratings. Raw ratings around this time hovered around an average of about a 3.75 and there were several weeks where they would have over a 4. Those numbers are far from what they enjoyed during their peak during the Monday Night Wars, it was otherwise a respectable number. The week following the move to three hours, ratings dipped to a 3.1 and within the month, it fell below a 3. The show now goes several weeks at a time in the low to mid twos.
If the week to week ratings do not make a strong enough case, then the hour to hour ratings should. The following is a breakdown, per Wrestling News World, of this past Monday Night Raw’s hour to hour rating.
Hour one – 3,014,000 viewers
Hour two – 3,019,000 viewers
Hour three 2,689,000 viewers
Raw is losing nearly half a million viewers in the third hour. This drop cannot be considered an isolated incident as a significant third hour drop is a week to week occurrence. The audience doesn’t care about the main event of the show anymore because they’re so worn out from having to sit through such a long program.
People like Paul Heyman and John Bradshaw Layfield towing the company line and defending the three hour Raw broadcast is all well and good. WWE is not in any danger of collapsing like WCW. This company has too many revenue streams to go belly up anytime soon. But, as predicted years ago, WWE will not come to an abrupt end like World Championship Wrestling. It will, nevertheless, continue to a slow decline until the number of people watching Raw match the number that subscribe to the WWE Network. Is the short term gain worth the long term damage to the brand?
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