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Tuesday, August 20 Business

WWE’s SmackDown Live set for October Fox launch

STAMFORD — SmackDown Live, one of WWE’s flagship shows, will debut Oct. 4 on Fox’s broadcast channel with a 20th anniversary edition, company officials announced Monday.

The show at the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles will launch one of WWE’s most-important projects, a five-year deal estimated to be worth more than $1 billion. SmackDown’s switch from cable’s USA Network to Fox will mark the first time that WWE’s programming will run year-round on one of the four main U.S. broadcast networks.

“SmackDown has been delivering action-packed, family-friendly programming for two decades, and we look forward to entertaining generations to come as we begin this next chapter on Fox,” WWE CEO and Chairman Vince McMahon said in a statement.

Past and present WWE Superstars set to appear in Los Angeles include Kurt Angle, Lita, Mick Foley, Booker T, Hulk Hogan, Trish Stratus, Goldberg, Jerry Lawler, Mark Henry, Ric Flair and Sting.

“Since we announced our five-year agreement last June, we have been eagerly counting down the days to the launch of SmackDown Live on Fox Sports,” Eric Shanks, Fox Sports’ CEO and executive producer, said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited and are pulling out all of the stops to commemorate SmackDown’s 20th anniversary celebration.”

Airing since 1999, SmackDown ranks as the second-longest-running weekly episodic cable show in U.S. primetime TV history, after WWE’s other cornerstone program, “Monday Night Raw.” The latter show is staying on USA Network.

SmackDown has aired more original episodes than some of the most-popular TV series, including The Simpsons, Gunsmoke, Lassie and Monday Night Football, according to WWE.

WWE officials credit SmackDown with helping to launch the careers of some of their most-successful Superstars, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Bella Twins.

At the same time, the company hopes SmackDown’s move to Fox will help turn around a disappointing run of results that has included two-straight quarters of declining revenues.

In the second quarter of this year, U.S. TV ratings for Raw and SmackDown, respectively, decreased by 14 percent and 11 percent.

Average attendance for North American events, which reflects the arena turnouts for Raw and SmackDown, slid by 2 percent.

When they reported their first-quarter results, WWE officials cited key Superstar absences from the ring as the main reasons for the decreases in that period.

In their analysis of the second quarter, company executives indicated they were more satisfied with Raw and SmackDown’s narratives. The shows’ monthly viewership drops shrank as the second quarter progressed

But some WWE observers said a lack of star power is still hindering the company’s programming.

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“With Haystacks Calhoun, Andre the Giant, Hogan, Goldberg, The Rock and Undertaker, they’ve always had at least one character they could count on to bring audiences, even on down days,” said Daniel Durbin, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Sports, Media and Society. “They don’t have that character right now. The lack of a ‘transcendent’ character really hurts. Right now, there is no wow factor to the WWE that brings in non-wrestling audiences.”

Amid the recent declines in TV viewership, WWE’s online audience continues to expand. In the past quarter, its digital video views grew 17 percent, to 9 billion.

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

Paul Schott|Staff reporter

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