WWE Co-President George Barrios, Co-President Michelle Wilson and SVP Financial Planning & Investor Relations Michael Weitz are hosting a Third Quarter 2019 Earnings call today from WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT. You can check out coverage of this morning's press release at this link. Below are highlights from the call:
Weitz welcomes everyone and goes over the basics of today's call. Weitz turns the call over to Barrios. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon will not be participating on the call today as he's in Saudi Arabia for Crown Jewel. Barrios went over some of the basic numbers from the press release linked above and touted the success of focusing on their content. He touted investing in in-ring core content, WWE NXT on the USA Network, and the successful debut of SmackDown. Barrios noted how they focused on content and touted how TV ratings have improved overall. He also touted the early success of SmackDown on FOX, making it one of the best Friday night program for the network in years. Barrios mentioned how their new deal in the Middle East & North Africa has been delayed, which hurt overall numbers in the quarter, but they are working on finalizing the deal. Barrios said the primary focus for the WWE Network is the continued evolution. He touted positive media reviews for the recent re-launch of the Network.
Wilson took over next and touted the SmackDown move to FOX, and the extra hour for NXT on the USA Network. These changes further built the brand as a compliment to everything else. These 7 hours of live original content each week helps with fan engagement. She talked about the new WWE Backstage show on FS1 and today's Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, mentioning Tyson Fury and Cain Velasquez. She also touted the new After The Bell podcast with Corey Graves as host. She also touted the "Rumble" movie with Paramount in July 2020 featuring Roman Reigns and RAW Women's Champion Becky Lynch voicing characters. By creating original content in these ways, they create new fans and engage the others. She talked about a successful SummerSlam and the expansion in China, plus other upcoming international tours. They also continued the evolution of their video games with the WWE 2K20 launch. She said initial feedback on the game launch has been mixed, but they believe in 2K to help with overall game growth. Live event business was down $3.1 million due to lower North American attendance as they had fewer events, but that didn't have a large impact on the numbers.
Barrios said as the media environment continues to evolve, they expect the value of live sports content will rise. Barrios said they believe WWE is well positions to take advantage of various industry trends to help them drive growth in the future. Barrios talked more about growth and the numbers, benefits from rights fees increasing in the years to come, and that was it for this part of the call. It's time for the Q&A with investors now.
They were asked about NXT on USA Network impacting subscribers to the WWE Network, and possibly taking NXT out of Full Sail Live. Barrios said the longterm strategy for NXT is to create another core flagship property. They think the value of live content will continue to increase, especially in the United States, and the opportunity to do that was worth some of the risk with the WWE Network. Barrios said the turnaround from NXT on USA to getting the show back on the Network is adding value for subscribers. The goal was to create another top brand to go with RAW and SmackDown. Barrios ignored the Full Sail question.
Barrios said they still believe they will have the India and MENA (Middle East & North Africa) TV distribution deals done before the end of the year. They thought the MENA deal would have been finalized in the quarter. He touted how NXT on USA actually means more in-ring content for WWE Network viewers because of the extra hour, and the turnaround time is only 24 hours from when it airs on USA. Barrios said they don't believe other platforms bundling streaming services and lowering prices will have any impact on the future pricing of the WWE Network. WWE is going for a certain audience that wants their content. Pay-per-view events and other big events like Takeovers are still the main driver of the Network. They are doing around 200 original hours of original content on the Network beyond pay-per-view events. WWE remains excited about the future of the Network and the value. They believe localization of content, the tiered pricing system with free tier plans, and other aspects will contribute to the growth. Barrios wouldn't speak on if there will be more than 2 Saudi Arabia events per year, but they are working on 2020 plans.
An investor asked if Crown Jewel 2019 will be more expensive due to Cain Velasquez and Tyson Fury, but Barrios wouldn't comment on that. WWE did make some additional talents earlier than scheduled this year. They were asked about sponsorship and Wilson said going to FOX has had a tremendous impact on the WWE brand because of their marketing machine. She mentioned how WWE has had a lot of exposure on FOX programming as of late. She said FOX and NBCUniversal both had successful Upfronts with advertisers due to WWE. They've seen new advertisers come in, including Amazon Prime, Kohl's, Taco Bell, and other new partners. They are confident that the FOX deal will continue to bring them new sponsorships as FOX is bundling them with their other sports programming.
Barrios wouldn't go over the NXT TV deal details but said they are in it for the longterm. Barrios also said they remain super focused on core in-ring content. Barrios also talked about being focused on 2020 and the value of their content going into 2024-2025. Sponsorship and their core content will be the key drivers for growth.
An investor asked about Eric Bischoff quickly being removed from his job as SmackDown Executive Director and asked if RAW Executive Director Paul Heyman is fully integrated into WWE creative. Barrios said he thinks Vince mentioned it before but one of the internal projects they've had is to continually strengthen the structure and process of the company, accomplish the goals of the writing process, and how the creation of these Executive Director jobs were done to allow some of the load to be taken off Vince, and to allow Vince to be more targeted with how he deals with the creative process. Barrios said they are really happy about the structure they have created but he wouldn't comment on any specific person. They are trying to put the best talent into spots as they do everywhere else, but they feel really good about the changes they made and the structure they have, but again, he would not comment on any specific person.
They were asked about AEW having an impact on the company, TV ratings, cost of talent, or anything else. Barrios said the live content ecosystem is competitive, whether you're talking about the NFL or other sports. Everybody is a competitor in some degree and ultimately they try to do as much engagement on Monday and Fridays and they feel pretty good about their history of doing that, and continuing that in the future, engaging the audience. He said there are a lot of competition for fans these days and WWE takes them all seriously. He was asked again about AEW driving up cost of talents. The caller named AEW World Champion Chris Jericho and asked if WWE worries about losing other talents to AEW. Barrios said their three sides of investing are creative, production and talent, and costs are higher on all three sides, but he wouldn't go into specifics on the reasons for the higher costs, and didn't blame AEW. He talked about how as WWE has done better over the years, the talent also does better and that's a great model they expect to see continue, and a win-win for everyone. Barrios said everyone has the decision to make individual choices. He talked about how big WWE is, everything they do and can offer, their social media platforms, content views and everything else they can do to put spotlights on talents, and said he would imagine that when talents think who they want to "align with" that all of those factors WWE can offer would be important.
They took a few more business questions and that was it for the call.