Over the last few weeks AEW has handily beaten NXT in key ratings demographics although the two are pretty even overall dating back to the start of the Wednesday Night Wars. Alfred Konuwa, wrestling analyst to Forbes.com, was asked how serious a threat AEW is to WWE when he joined The Wrestling Inc Daily podcast.
"I'll tell you what – anybody who's not taking AEW seriously as a threat to WWE – whenever that question is posed, people look at that and they say, 'Oh, they could never replace WWE. They've been around for 50 years.' Yeah, brand recognition is one thing but if you want to talk about here and now in the year 2020, AEW absolutely is a threat and I'll tell you why. It's because of the 18 and 49 demographic that AEW has absolutely overachieved," stated Konuwa.
He then added that with AEW's success with the target demo, networks like USA might take a look at them when their and WWE's contracts come up.
"They might take a look at AEW. Who's to say that if AEW's contract comes up, you'll see network that says, 'Listen, we cannot afford WWE. We can afford these guys and they're doing better in 18-49. This is a budget deal that will keep us relevant so let's just go ahead and do it.' So, I think that's absolutely a threat in terms of how well they do in 18-49 and the discount that you can get on AEW," said Konuwa.
He was then asked if AEW should entertain doing a Friday night show and go head-to-head with SmackDown.
"That's a good question. Maybe not Friday night, but Friday night might work in the distant future. I think it's too early to do something like that right now," said Konuwa. "I think they really should build momentum on Wednesday night. Who's to say that NXT won't eventually just close up shop and go away? This is gonna last as long as USA and WWE are in bed together, which you know, maybe that'll go on for much longer, but you never know in that scenario. And USA is very strict in terms of what they cancel if something doesn't perform up to par. So, who's to say how long this will be a Wednesday Night War? But yeah, I could see AEW going head to head with WWE on a Friday or Monday night or something like that, but maybe five years into the future when they feel like they've grown enough."
Konuwa broached the possibility of USA removing NXT from it's airwaves and was asked to expand on the chance that WWE pulls NXT out of the Wednesday Night Wars before ratings get even worse.
"I mean, it would go maybe go back to WWE Network, but I don't think it's gotten to that point. I think it's been relatively close like right now it's now going back into the favor of AEW but NXT did have these spurts. It's just that NXT as we know it, it's existing right now to compete with AEW and it's so obvious when you watch NXT," said Konuwa.
"You can watch AEW and not know there's an NXT. You can notice a WWE because you make a lot of those references. But you watch NXT knowing what I know about wrestling, you can tell like they're only doing this because they think that will take away viewers and it's a very herky-jerky show to watch in terms of personal enjoyment instead of just like building it up. So creatively, I can see if they find that it's fruitless and AEW has just run away with this thing, I could see them maybe tucking their tail between their legs. But that would be USA decision more likely than anything else. I don't think it'd be a WWE decision."
Konuwa hit upon the WWE Network and he was asked about the network's present-day value.
"It's absolutely I think at the lowest period in terms of how it's valued. When it opened it really didn't set the world on fire with the million subscribers they said it would. Then it's kind of gone up and down when there was pay per views, and it would kind of depend on what the pay per view was. Now we're at this period where people just have it and they have really gutted it," said Konuwa.
He then mentioned that they could redefine the network with the EVOLVE deal they have with hopes that this would revitalize the network.
"They might decide the network is just going to be this place that we're going to buy up some wrestling promotions and we're just going to have these promotions here. So, it would be like a Disney+ of wrestling where you could just get all these little promotions. But other than that nostalgia, the documentary is – you would think that during COVID the watch hours have to be up, right? So, the documentary of that archival footage is always going to be its backbone. But in terms of something that you have to have past being a wrestling fan, I couldn't make an argument for it," admitted Konuwa.
WWE pulling the plug on NXT from the USA Network would be uncharacteristic of Vince McMahon and Konuwa cited a mistake he thinks WWE made with the network.
"It is and I don't see them stopping. WWE network… I think they're just way too early in cutting out their pay per view and jumping in here because you look at the amount of huge pay per views that may have billions of dollars – the Pacquiao-Mayweather and McGregor-Mayweather – all these big fights. And pay per views are still making money. Pay per view is killing it right now in COVID," stated Konuwa. "So, WWE was just too early to cancel the pay per view. But the fact that they have this network is going to help because it's going to give them leverage if they don't get the TV deal they want or if they just need somewhere to put their show, and even to be more viable in the future. If you look at all the networks – HBO Max, Disney+ – we're going to a culture where streaming is going to be king. The fact that WWE has the network is going to help them way long term, but just not maybe not right now."
Alfred Konuwa contributes pro wrestling analysis weekly for Forbes.com. Alfred's full interview aired as part of a recent episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.