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With Raw ratings sliding to their lowest numbers since before the Attitude Era, WWE is scrambling to figure out why their viewership is decreasing. Recently, they sent out a fan survey to ask fans why they may not be watching Raw all the time, letting fans know that they are genuinely puzzled about what is happening.
Granted, the headline for this story is a little misleading. I still watch Raw, but my dedication to the product is waning. I often DVR the show, begin watching it later in the evening not so I can fast-forward through advertisements, like WWE's survey suggests, but so I can fast-forward through numerous boring segments they have on the show. I am way more reliant on reading reports on the show than I have been in the past, and I often find myself tuning out when the broadcast is on.
To be honest, if I didn't have this column and I didn't feel obligated to at least pay attention to Raw every week, I don't think that I would. In the last year or so, Raw has gone from being something that I looked forward to watching every week to a chore that must be completed for the sake of routine. Raw has largely become something that I have to do instead of something I want to do, and many wrestling fans feel the same way.
WWE can explain why the ratings are down all they want, it is because of cord cutting (which affects viewership, not the actual rating), it is because of Monday Night Football, etc. and all of those things have a measure of truth in them. Cable ratings are down across the board, although live sports (which WWE is sort of like) are up in ratings because they remain mostly DVR proof, you can't catch last night's game on Hulu the following day. But to hear WWE executives talk about how ratings don't matter and how big of a problem cord cutting is, it makes it seem like it is impossible to draw a big rating on cable. It's not.
Take Game of Thrones for example, the season finale of Season 5 of Game of Thrones received over 8 million viewers, about two and a half times the amount of viewers the latest episode of Raw received. Game of Thrones airs on HBO, which is available in 31 percent of American households, far less than USA network, which is available in 82 percent of American homes. With the advent of HBO Go, HBO also strongly encourages watching Game of Thrones outside of watching it live when it originally airs. In addition, Game of Thrones is one of if not the most popular TV show that is illegally streamed and watched over the internet. Despite all of those challenges, Game of Thrones still manages to get a huge viewership.
Why is Game of Thrones so bulletproof? Because they turn out a consistently entertaining product. That is WWE's biggest problem right now, all of those excuses about cord cutting and people watching on DVR wouldn't matter if WWE was putting out a decent enough product. If the show was going to be entertaining from week to week, I wouldn't dare start watching it late, or rely on internet summaries to explain things, I would want to see the action right as it was happening. WWE's issue is that that is almost never the case, because Raw is so often boring and occasionally unwatchable.
Injuries have certainly taken on toll on WWE, a lot of their top stars are out and there is nothing WWE can do to really prevent that from happening. What they can prevent is booking the roster so poorly that only a very small minority is taken seriously as top level talent, so when those few top guys go down with injuries or take some time off, the roster is left looking weaker than a Eva Marie clothesline. The top faction right now features Sheamus, Rusev and Wade Barrett, three guys who up until extremely recently WWE had booked as losers. It is hard to take those guys seriously, but out of necessity WWE has to put someone in the main event so that is who they chose, and to be honest it wasn't like there were any great alternative options except for Kevin Owens. I'm not excited to watch 40 minutes of Raw get taken up by Sheamus, so therefore I am way less likely to watch.
The Authority have also really done a number on my tolerance for Raw. The storyline has been going on for so long that we are now on our third Authority-backed champion, and it isn't like the storyline is setting the world on fire. I can't remember the last truly memorable Authority moment, maybe it was Survivor Series last year when they were briefly gone from the product, only to return a few weeks later to start the vicious cycle all over again. The Authority opening Raw with a 20 minute promo has become a running joke between hardcore wrestling fans, but WWE has remained ignorant to the fact that it is clearly not working, and keeps trotting them up week after week, month after month, hell YEAR AFTER YEAR! It's the only idea creative seemingly has! Outside of The Undertaker/Brock Lesnar feud, The Authority has been behind pretty much every major happening in WWE. Randy Orton's heel turn and cash in, the two world championships being unified into one, Daniel Bryan become WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Evolution coming back, Seth Rollins dissolving The Shield, Seth Rollins winning MITB and cashing in, Sheamus cashing in, it has all been done by The Authority. It just keeps going and going and going with no real end in sight, it looks like WWE creative is going to be using The Authority as crutch for eternity, because ratings don't matter and the fans open disgust of the current product doesn't seem to matter all that much either.
A lot of people think moving Raw back to two hours would help out a lot. Asking for two hours is a lesser commitment from the fan, and the show will not drag on and on like it feels like now. It also gives the creative team a break as they no longer have to fill an extra hour. However, I don't really believe switching back to two hours would lead to that much of an improvement. Raw being three hours has led to better matches on Raw and recently a greater focus on both the tag team division and the Diva's division. If WWE were to go back to two hours, those things would be the first casualties. The exasperating Authority promos would still be on Raw, and there will still be tons of John Cena and Roman Reigns. We would be getting the same show with less New Day, less Diva's and shorter matches. That doesn't sound like much of an improvement to me.
Wrestling fans are very practical, they will tune in if the product is worth tuning into. It isn't any surprise that WWE is generating record-low ratings at the same time their product is being critically panned all over the place. For WWE to improve their product there are significant changes that need to be made and it will not be easy, but they are turning fans away in droves with their current product and it is unclear how much longer they can get away with it.