WWE Smackdown's move to Fox on Friday nights was announced as a big move for the company. Eric Bischoff was brought on to be the executive director of Smackdown but was let go from his position recently. Speaking from his perspective running WCW and his experience in the wrestling industry, Bischoff spoke to Wrestling Inc. on our WINCLY podcast about Smackdown and Fox.
Bischoff first spoke about the idea of ratings and whether they still matter even with streaming.
"If they're not watching it on television, they're not going to arenas. If they're not watching it on television, and they're not going to arenas, they're not buying merchandise. If they're not watching it on television, they're not going to arenas and they're not buying merchandise, more than likely they're not buying any pay per views. So for anyone to suggest that television ratings aren't important anymore, I think that's a pretty broad statement," Bischoff said. "I think its quite arguable that ratings aren't important today as they were five or 10 years ago because of streaming.
"It still comes down to if there's nobody watching your show, there's nobody going to your events and that's the lifeblood of professional wrestling."
Bischoff does say that it is to his understanding that streaming numbers are also counted in Nielsen ratings as well as the traditional method of cable and network television. He also gave his thoughts on Smackdown's recent dip in ratings.
"If you look at the domestic U.S. part of the business model, their (WWE) ratings have been getting softer and softer and continue to do so even with Smackdown. I don't know what anybody's expectations were," Bischoff said. "[I] never had any discussions like that with anybody, but I think generally everyone was really anticipating that Smackdown moving over to Fox was kind of going to be the catalyst for WWE in particular but the business in general, to kind of see that Monday Night War kind of revival, to reinvigorate the business."
Bischoff reiterates that he does not have any inside information on what WWE and Fox's expectations were for Smackdown, but he does speculate on the kind of mindset they had for Smackdown as well as what the numbers reflect in terms of viewership.
"I think there was an 'all ships float with a higher tide' kind of mentality and expectation going into Smackdown, but we've seen really just the opposite. The number there are soft. I'm sure softer than Fox probably was hoping," Bischoff said. "I suspect quite a bit lower than what WWE was expecting, but it suggests to me that fewer people, in general, are watching the wrestling product today than they were during the Monday Night Wars."
The reason why ratings are not as promising for WWE and Fox, Bischoff believes, is the time slot Smackdown is placed.
"Friday nights, that's a bad time of the week for TV, for wrestling fans.
"My first red flag was, 'wow they picked a hell of a night' especially if your core audience is 18-49," Bischoff said. "I think by spring and summer, Smackdown is gonna have a real challenge that's gonna make Friday nights tougher than they are right now."
Despite the time slot, Bischoff does not think Fox would move Smackdown to a different time and day.
"I don't see Fox giving up a two-hour primetime piece of real estate, Monday through Thursday, to accommodate wrestling," said Bischoff. "I think Friday night, they looked at it and said 'look it's a soft night for viewers across the board because it's Friday night.' I'm sure Fox in their research realized how loyal the wrestling audience is, and they are, probably other than NASCAR fans, I think wrestling fans are the most loyal audience out there, and they'll find you wherever you are. They will find you, and I'm sure FOX looked at that and said 'well you know what on a Friday night we could use a couple million 2-3 million viewers watching wrestling even if its a little bit of a soft product for advertising so we'll see.'
"Smackdown is probably hovering around that 2.5 million range right now on the average since I left, and let's see how that holds up through the spring particularly in the early summer and [how] Fox reacts to that, [how] WWE reacts to that."
Bischoff's full interview with Wrestling Inc aired on today's episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post. During the interview, Bischoff discussed the importance of television ratings, how ratings were calculated, why AEW should be concerned about their ratings dropping, if he could see FOX moving SmackDown to another night and more. 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.