WWE officially announced the news that had been floated for about a week, which is that beginning in October their developmental NXT promotion will air on USA Network on Wednesday nights, opposite AEW on TNT. It has fascinating business implications that in some ways harken back to the days of the fabled Monday night wars between WWE and WCW, but are nonetheless also different in such a fragmented marketplace.
NXT has previously been airing over the top on the WWE Network and for me personally because it was taped and aired online as opposed to on linear TV, I did not feel the need to watch it live. Now, combined with AEW, the upstart promotion launched by Jaguars owner Tony Khan, it solidifies Wednesday night as an evening I know I’m going to be watching wrestling 40+ weeks a year.
The longstanding rumors were that NXT was going to air on FS1 and be paired with the WWE studio show that they are launching. However, it’s clear that it was important to Vince McMahon for NXT to go head-to-head with AEW. FS1 had previous commitments to Big East basketball games, which frankly not a whole lot of people watch on cable, and it seems as though this was an unmovable road block. WWE’s media negotiators at CAA, Nick Khan and Alan Gold, ultimately got the deal done with USA.
This competition will likely siphon some amount of viewership away from AEW in the short run, but my belief is that it will be a tide that lifts both boats in the long term. If NXT aired on Tuesday nights on FS1, pro wrestling would’ve been on linear TV on Monday (Raw on USA), Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday (Smackdown on Fox). That doesn’t take into account the PPVs, which WWE has every month and AEW will have about quarterly to start.
While there’s still going to be some wrestling fatigue and choices to make when other sporting events are on, cutting out one night a week and knowing that on Wednesday nights will have two quality programs is going to make me more likely to block it out as a night for wrestling than I otherwise would have. (It also helps that I have two TVs in my office; I’m currently considering getting a third and just having it be a Roku TV, which I can find for under $200 on sale. Thank you for indulging my life’s story.)
NXT is expanding from one hour to two per week, and transitioning from taped to live. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up their high quality standards that the sub-brand has built to get to this point. It will also be worth monitoring whether and to what extent the pressure to deliver TV for this promotion will keep people like, say, Matt Riddle — who should have a rocket ship strapped to his back and is arguably ready to be in the main event picture on the main roster — around to bolster credibility with the new audience.
AEW has been selling out all their live shows in minutes, as they have a group of performers — Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, Hangman Page, Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, and more — who are very compelling, and many die-hard wrestling fans have been starving for a bona fide alternative to WWE for years. How this translates to a TV audience remains to be seen.
Whatever the case may be, we are set up for a very fascinating Fall in the pro wrestling industry with the launches of AEW on TNT, NXT on USA, and Smackdown on Fox. Place your viewership bets accordingly.