WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, Chief Strategy and Financial Officer George Barrios, Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson and SVP Financial Planning & Investor Relations Michael Weitz are hosting a Third Quarter 2017 earnings call today from WWE headquarters in Stamford. You can check out coverage of this morning's press release at this link. Below are highlights:
Weitz opens the call and welcomes everyone to go over the basics. Vince takes over and touts increased revenue at 14%. He mentions the successful WWE Network launch in China, noting that they are looking forward to a great deal of growth in China in the months and years to come. He mentions new programming in other markets, the Middle East, India and Mexico, noting that the recap shows and localized content there are doing very well for the company. Vince also mentioned WWE signing the first female talents from the Middle East and India, Kavita Devi and Shadia Bseiso, but he did not know their names. He called on Triple H to name them but even Triple H had some trouble with the names. Vince said those signings are creating a lot of interest and mentioned how they are branching out with their female Superstars, who are extraordinary athletic. He also touted the December live events in India, saying he's looking forward to producing those. Vince also touted his favorite topics, video views and social media success, which are crucial to WWE's success. He also mentioned NBCUniversal securing several new advertisers for the company. Vince closed by saying they anticipate continued growth in 2018 and another year of record revenue & profits.
Vince turns the call over to Barrios to go over some of the numbers in the press release. Wilson takes over next. She also mentioned the first female talents from India and the Middle East, adding that international talents now represent 40% of the roster at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. Wilson talked more about WWE's international expansion, which they are focused on as an important part of growth. Wilson said the expansion has attracted a record number of sponsors. NBCU landed WWE 20 new sponsors at their recent Upfronts, bringing the number to 70 sponsors over the past few years. That brings NBCU's total roster to nearly 200 sponsors for WWE shows. Wilson also mentioned WWE's social media followers being up 70% at 825 million. She touted attendance, WWE Network subscribers and hours of content watched as factors that represent the strength of the brand. Barrios takes back over to discuss more numbers from the press release.
Barrios reiterated how they expect to achieve another record year of revenue in 2018 with significant long term growth opportunities. They are focused on investing in markets with the greatest potentials, investing in infrastructure and a long range of content across their various platforms. The monetization of content is a fundamental element of their business model. They signed new content licensing agreements in 2017 with partners in Japan, Australia, South Africa, France and Canada. The RAW and SmackDown TV deals in the United States will expire on September 30th, 2019 while the deals for the UK and India will expire on December 31st, 2019. They currently expect to announce their US distribution plan for RAW and SmackDown between May 2018 and September 2018. They expect to announce the UK distribution plan during the second half of 2018 and the India distribution plan in the first half of 2019. The negotiations are set to begin next year but they are subject to change. Barrios noted that announcements could come before or after the dates just mentioned but those are the likely periods.
It's time for calls from investors. When asked about an exclusive window for TV talks with NBCUniversal, Barrios wouldn't elaborate but he did note that they have communication with other providers and they know what the visions are for those other outlets, to make sure they understand WWE's vision. Regarding the advertisers that NBCU has brought to them, they're now seeing everything from pharmaceuticals to auto makers and everything in between. They used to wait for studios to approach them for sponsors but now it's the other way around.
A caller asked about localization of content and competition for the WWE Network. They continue to work on localization on all of their platforms, and they're still looking at doing multiple tiers, which Barrios predicts will happen. Wilson touted how they are doing live pay-per-views in 9 languages now, which is a key driver in local viewership. When asked how the WWE Network is doing in China since the launch in August, they and their partners are happy with how subscribers are going. Wilson mentioned things getting better as Xbox grows in the market. Regarding engagement with consumers in China, they have a team on the ground for digital & social, and RAW & SmackDown airs live in local languages, which helps growth but everything is still in the early stages there.
A caller asked Vince about programming and why they weren't doing some of the international expansion 15 or 20 years ago. Barrios interrupted and said things have changed, mainly with technology, resources and infrastructure. WWE has changed as has the entire world, and they have resources that they never had before. Vince gave Barrios props on
A caller mentioned how fast women's wrestling is growing in the United States and how WWE has gradually progressed the women's roster, as it feels like it's accelerating. The caller also asked what percentage of the active roster are women, and how that helps with business partners. Female talents represent 35% of the current roster and that number has grown over the past few years. Wilson gave Triple H props on being instrumental in this growth. She also noted that they see success for the female Superstars with digital & social followers, ratings when female matches are on TV and viewership when they have female matches on pay-per-view. They will continue to invest in trends when they see results and success that they have with the women. Wilson noted that viewership for The Mae Young Classic was in line with other similar events for the men's division. They continue to be encouraged by the success and are receiving favorable responses from consumers. Wilson also mentioned tremendous feedback from their business partners for women empowerment and how they support that initiative.
They took a few more calls on growth and the Network before wrapping the call.