It's no secret that WWE's 2019 was a bit of a rollercoaster. The company had many highs and certainly a few lows. Citigroup analyst Jason Bazinet spoke to WWE Co-President George Barrios at the Citi 2020 Global TMT West Conference earlier this week about the 2019 year and what he believes was good and bad about it.
"Probably the biggest thing that went well was the transition to the new platform of our DTC (direct-to-consumer) service," Barrios began. "You'll watch a lot of big organizations who are either launching or are moving from one platform to another, and it usually comes along with a rough early going. While ours wasn't, I wouldn't say it was seeing us, it actually worked really well, in terms of our fans and to ensure the continuity to access the events. That was a lot of work from a lot of people at the WWE; multiple functions, content function, the product function, tech function, so that was great.
"Probably the thing that was a little bit out of our control, but you know, we'd like to think we controlled it quite a bit, was the engagement over the first few months of the year. Obviously, we're going through a generational transition from John Cena handing the baton over to Roman Reigns. If you think back to the history of WWE, it was Andre The Giant to Hulk Hogan to 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin to The Rock to John Cena and now it's moving to Roman. During that transition, we had somewhat of a unique confluence of injuries and absences for a variety of reasons earlier in the year. You could definitely feel it on the engagement metric."
One of those big transitions for the company was when NXT shifted over from the WWE Network to air on cable television. Barrios at first was not sure how well the ratings would be when it began, but says that it's something they'll keep their eye on in the future.
"Ultimately, what we're about is creating content, "Barrios noted. "We create content to the goal of reaching as many people as we can; driving engagements for the people we reach that they spend as much time as possible with the content. Those two things lead to direct monetization, which could be subscription, license, and transactional revenue.
"When you ask specifically about NXT, we looked at the environments, and if there's a significant value that continues to be placed on live content in the U.S. video ecosystem, we think that's going to grow. What if we could develop another two-hours of live content that is equivalent to the five hours between RAW and SmackDown. If we can do that, that's a game-changer, so let's see if we can do that.
"The negative is that it's living on your DTC service today. By pulling that off (the Network), have you deprecated that DTC service? It's a delicate balance that we're always managing and ultimately, we came to the conclusion that while there's manifestly some depreciation, we thought it was fairly minimal that the opportunity was big enough for us to take that risk, which led us to that decision. It's a short-term deal, so we'll learn over the term of the deal, and then at that point in time, we'll decide if we still think it's worth continuing."
With AEW's debut back in October, it was quite clear that it was going to be WWE's number one competitor in terms of viewership and revenue. Barrios said that he's not too worried about AEW and if they'll take the WWE down in the future.
"I'm a kid from Queens, so everything is a competition, everything is a fight," Barrios stated. "That's one of the things that I love about the WWE is we don't take anything for granted. We are serious like a heart attack around fighting for our fair share.
"Having said that, I think it's fair to say that there's been other wrestling (promotions) in the United States and abroad, who we respect - the people and talent behind it and what they do. It can be tough to compete with us just because we're so good at we do, we've built up capabilities and competency over a long, long time - how to build stars, how to build content, and how to engage fans over multiple platforms. I would say, don't take anything for granted... I love a good fight, we enjoy it."
You can view George Barrios' full panel above via WrestleNomics. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.