Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos took a victory lap on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call about the company’s acquisition of exclusive rights to Monday Night Raw and other WWE programming.
“If I could raise a single eyebrow at a time, I would lean into the camera with a single eyebrow and do my best Dwayne,” he laughed, referring to Dwayne Johnson, WWE legend and newly minted board member of TKO Group Holdings. WWE programming, he continued on a more sincere note, is “right in the sweet spot of our sports business, which is the drama of sport. Think of this as 52 weeks of live programming every year. It feeds our desire to expand our event programming.”
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The exec’s comments followed the company’s release of strong fourth-quarter results, highlighted by a far-better-than expected gain of 13 million subscribers compared with the same period in 2022. Netflix ended 2023 with more than 260 million subscribers worldwide.
Raw was launched by USA in 1993 and currently airs on the cable network. The 10-year deal, which takes effect in January 2025, is worth $5 billion and also includes non-U.S. rights to other WWE programming.
Sarandos described the WWE as “almost the inverse of Formula 1,” with a large and avid U.S. viewer base and upside potential in international markets. WWE programming has been “historically under-distributed around the world,” Sarandos added. Plans call for new territories to be added to the Raw footprint down the road. It will stream live in the U.S., UK and Latin America when the deal begins.
Just as the company has produced shoulder programming on Formula 1 auto racing, tennis, NFL football and other sports, it will do likewise with the WWE. Unlike tie-ins with pro sports leagues and athletes, Sarandos observed, “The events themselves are the storytelling in the WWE, so this is a proven formula for us and we’re excited to jump into it.”
In addition to the fit with the company’s sports strategy, WWE will “add some fuel” to the company’s nascent ad-supported tier.
Sarandos was asked about whether the WWE deal augurs bids for more conventional sports rights, a move Netflix has generally avoided even as streaming rivals place big bets. The sports streaming marketplace has heated up as cord-cutting accelerates and technology keeps progressing. Prime Video and NBCUniversal’s Peacock recently handled record-setting NFL streams and ESPN is prepping a full direct-to-consumer product designed to handle high-capacity events. Sarandos said nothing had changed about the company’s view of the landscape. “I wouldn’t look at this as any sort of change to our sports strategy,” he said.
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