AEW Dynamite was exactly that – dynamite – with ratings in its debut on October 2nd. It had over 1.4 million viewers but that number has been nearly cut in half to under 800,000 for its most recent episode on December 11.
Eric Bischoff talked about AEW's ratings and what his initial expectations were when he spoke to Wrestling Inc. on our WINCLY podcast.
"I really didn't expect AEW to do much better than 500,000 to 600,000 viewers on their premiere episode because other than Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes and The Bucks, there's not a lot of nationally-known branded talent. They're very popular on the indie scene and strong on social media, but I underestimated that substantially when they came in at 1.4 million on their premiere episode. AEW has far exceeded my expectations and I'm glad to be able to say that," stated Bischoff.
NXT's ratings have also declined since it moved to USA in September and this past week it had 778,000 viewers which was the same as AEW. Bischoff offered a comparison to those numbers compared to what he was pulling a couple of years ago in TNA.
"There's a lot of people talking about their perspective and what it means and if somebody's doing well or not so well. None of those people happen to be representatives of the network that's living or dying by their ability to sell advertising for that show," said Bischoff. "I don't mean this to be critical, but if you look at NXT and AEW, both of those shows are delivering numbers that were embarrassing to TNA a couple of years ago.
"I don't know how you can look at those numbers and not be concerned. In the TV industry, if you're not building your audience, you're killing your audience. You're either growing or dying."
He added that a rerun of non-wrestling programming would have an easier time selling ads and get as much money as what's being spent on a live action wrestling event.
"People are probably saying the right things to the press. But if I was only delivering 800,000 viewers in primetime and my numbers weren't showing signs of growing…you're gonna fly into an iceberg sooner or later," stated Bischoff.
He then talked about how difficult it is for wrestling programming in the first place to sell to advertisers.
"It's always about the buck. High profile advertisers like automotive and alcohol – the ads that sell for the most money – those advertisers don't want anything to do with wrestling," revealed Bischoff. "So, you're narrowing your advertising market and when you do that, you lower your cost because you're selling to a finite community with a lower budget.
"If you're delivering under 1 million viewers a week in a market that's not ad-friendly… If you are an advertiser and you are willing to place your ads in pro wrestling, you've got five hours of primetime on USA and FOX to place those dollars in. Why would you choose to place them in two smaller shows, NXT and AEW, with talent, that for the most part, the advertising community doesn't even know or acknowledge? It's a double whammy."
Bischoff did say that he thinks AEW will succeed but only if they're working on a 3-5 year business plan instead of going month-to-month.
Much has been made about the production value of AEW with it's big arenas and lighting compared to NXT which takes place in a dark, small studio. Bischoff was asked about the presentation of AEW as opposed to NXT.
"The first time I watched AEW…somebody asked me the next day what I thought. I said I thought it looked great and the most important character in the entire show was the audience," said Bischoff. "The lighting director made sure the audience was a part of the show. When you have a live-action audience who's engaged in the product and feel like they're a part of the show, that's worth a lot. It translates to the viewer and makes them feel like they're watching something that's important. That sense is validated by the people's reactions that they see on TV.
"Flip that over to a small, dark studio-type of venue, much like TNA or I had [with early WCW]. You have a small, sterile audience and it doesn't feel valid or important. I use this example – take the best WrestleMania match and put that match in a high school gym in front of 120 people. Is it gonna feel like the same match? Is it gonna leave the same impression on the viewer? It won't. The live part of the crowd is so important and I don't see how NXT can begin to compete, long-term, just by producing the show in a studio environment. I know that because I did it in WCW…
"In terms of the television product, I think AEW is a winner hands down."
Bischoff's full interview with Wrestling Inc aired as part of yesterday's episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post. You can check out past episodes of the WINCLY here. Subscribe to Wrestling Inc. Audio on iTunes or Google Play. Listen to the show via Spotify here or through TuneIn here.