Upstart promotion All Elite Wrestling has found success so far holding fan rallies and promoting it's first show, Double or Nothing. While the support from fans attending rallies and buying tickets for the May PPV is an encouraging sign, most analysts agree that what will make or break AEW will be whether or not the company can secure a prominent television contract.
There have been wrestling companies over the last several years that have had ambitious goals but failed to secure a television contract. Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling, Arolucha and Billy Corgan's NWA have all attempted to get on weekly television but have been unable to find a home on television and thus the impact those companies have been able to have has been small.
Signing talent to contracts and holding live events is no guarantee of success; but having a paying TV contract is a sign of sustained business. Over its history Impact has not run a lot of live events, nor have they sold a ton of PPVs. They have had a television deal for a majority of their existence, which is why the company is still around, 17 years after it's debut.
Fortunately for AEW, the company looks like it is ready to sign a significant TV deal soon. Dave Meltzer reported that the company is deciding between two "major cable networks" and that the deal the company will sign will be the best TV contract since WCW closed, better than TNA's deal with Spike TV.
So where is AEW going? Assuming that the company will be headed to a bigger network than Spike (now called Paramount Network), looking at a list of the most-watched television networks in 2018 we can reasonably determine which networks are potential suitors for AEW.
There are 43 networks that had higher viewership than Paramount in 2018; although many of those are specialty networks. I think it's safe to assume the Food Network, MSNBC, Hallmark and other such networks are not going to be broadcasting pro wrestling. I also think it is a safe bet to cross off all networks owned by FOX and NBCUniversal, since those companies both have big money deals with WWE.
Crossing off those networks, that limits the possible destinations for AEW to just eight cable stations. With that being known,which station would be the most logical fit for AEW? Here are the contenders:
MTV and VH1
MTV and VH1 are both owned by Viacom, and while they were originally founded as networks that specialized in music related programming, both networks have shifted more into focusing on a reality television. MTV does have some history broadcasting wrestling; they famously televised "The War to Settle the Score" between Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper back in 1985, and more recently, the short-lived Wrestling Society X in 2007. MTV and VH1 are probably longshots, but they may be interested in trying something different to try and jump start the networks back into greater relevance.
The CW is actually a broadcast and not a cable station, but is significantly smaller than the big four networks of ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. The CW would be a great fit for AEW, the network previously broadcasted SmackDown and ranks 11th in average viewership in the US. The staple of CW programming is superhero based shows in the "Arrow" universe. Arrow star Stephen Amell is a huge wrestling fan and participated at ALL IN, and Cody Rhodes has been a featured star on Arrow as recently as last year. The CW could be one of the favorites to land AEW.
Similar to MTV, the American Movie Channel was originally a stations specifically for broadcasting films, but has since expanded to scripted dramas and live talk shows. AMC has never produced a pro wrestling show and it is unlikely that they are about to start, but the network still fits the criteria of being bigger than Paramount and is not owned by FOX or NBCU; so it's not impossible they would decide to start broadcasting wrestling. A lot of cable networks are seeing declining viewership due to cord-cutting; AMC viewership declined by 15 percent in 2018, so perhaps they would be willing to think outside the box.
Like AMC, A&E doesn't have any experience broadcasting sports, they mainly produce reality TV, but they are a big cable network that does produce some live talk shows, so they have so experience producing live television, even if wrestling would be a whole different animal.
ESPN was reportedly involved in bidding for RAW and SmackDown, before FOX and NBCU came in with massive offers. ESPN is one of the biggest cable networks and obviously has a ton of experience producing live content. ESPN also has its own streaming service in ESPN+ and have been trying to acquire different niche products, such as Serie A soccer and Formula 1 racing, to get those specific fans to subscribe to the network. AEW would definitely qualify as a niche product, and it would make sense for ESPN to invest in AEW as a product for ESPN+.
TBS and TNT
The Turner Networks are probably the most-talked about stations to land AEW. TBS and TNT rank 12th and 14th in average viewership respectively, and regularly broadcast MLB and NBA games. More importantly, as the former home for WCW programming, Turner has a lot of experience in the past broadcasting wrestling. While WCW is often mocked for costing Turner so much money in its dying days; for decades wrestling was very successful on TBS and there could be the belief that a better managed company could succeed again on the network.
ABC and CBS
Okay, AEW landing on two of the biggest networks in the country is unlikely, but like most of the cable networks; these major stations are losing viewership; CBS was down 7 percent in 2018 and ABC was down 3 percent. Live programming, such as sports or wrestling, is believed to be less susceptible to viewership decline, which is why WWE has landed consistently more lucrative TV contracts over the years despite their viewership declining. ABC and CBS both roll out new shows every fall that cost money to produce and don't see a second season; would attempting to roll out a wrestling show be that much more of a risk? I don't expect it to happen, but I also don't think it's impossible.