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VINCE & KHAN ON WWE RATINGS & FUTURE RIGHTS FEES, NETFLIX TO PRODUCE VINCE MCMAHON DOCUMENTARY SERIES, INDIA EVENT ANNOUNCED: COMPLETE COVERAGE OF WWE EARNINGS CALL FOR THIRD QUARTER OF 2020

By Mike Johnson on 2020-10-29 17:00:00

Welcome to PWInsider.com's live, ongoing coverage of WWE's earnings conference call for the third quarter of 2020.    Vince McMahon and the company's Chief Financial Officer, Kristina Salen will be speaking.

Michael Weiss welcomed everyone to the call.

Vince McMahon said that he has never felt as confident as he currently do about their upper management and it's extraordinary what they have done for the business.  He said there is a new energy and optimism.  He said when you look at where they go in the future and their resources, this is a fun, exciting place to be.  He praised Nick Khan for his work.  He also singled out Stephanie McMahon and said she has more responsibilities.  He that he really feels great about the new management team and that's "all I want to say."

Nick Khan made his debut on the calls and gave some background on his work before WWE. 

He said WWE Studios are in development on new shows.  He touted the return of Total Bellas, the forthcoming Quest for WWE Treasures on A&E, the A&E documentaries on Steve Austin, The Ultimate Warrior and many others. 

They announced a multi-part documentary on Vince McMahon to Netflix.  Bill Simmons will be Executive Producing.

They turned to WWE Network.  Even with potential partners impacted by COVID-19, they have returned to talks with potential partners to license the Network.  They don't have a timeline on that.  Network subscriptions are up despite the pandemic and Network viewership and consumption are also up 60%.  The average paid subscribers are up to 1.6 million, 6%.

They are working on developing localized programming.  They announced they working on a 2021 event in partnership with Sony featuring local Indian talents that will air there and be distributed here in the United States.   This absolutely felt like a coming out party for Khan to showcase what he is bringing to the company.

Stephanie explained her role as the Chief Brand Officer.  She praised how the company was able to pivot during the pandemic, the creation of the Thunderdome and the re-christening of the Capitol Wrestling Center.  She talked the reboot of the NXT UK series, praising the production teams from London, Stamford and Orlando all working together.  She talked about changes to their digital strategy, leading to a 28% increase.  They surpassed 50 billion views on YouTube.

McMahon discussed virtual visits for their community outreach partners, including UNICEF and others.  She said their advertising and sponsorships have outpaced industry trends.

Chief Financial Officer, Kristina Salen took over and began doing the old George Barrios role, breaking down the numbers.

The company is currently evaluating their financial and strategies for 2021.  The continued effect of COVID-19 keeps everything understandly uncertain.

They went to the questions.

They were asked about the ratings remaining where they are and any concrete plans on improving ratings.  They were asked if the ratings stay at the level thjey are at currently, will they hurt the rights fees when they come up.    Vince said they have more fans than they've ever had but their total audience is much bigger than just the TV audience and can't "hang your hat" on viewership is down.  You have to have a mothership but in today's world, they are never off the air.  You can say they are down but you need to consider the overall viewpoint.  They are doing everything they can.  The Thunderdome brought some fans back.  They want better writing, better execution.

Nick Khan said the TV medium has lost eyeballs but WWE viewership overall has not.  Consumption of content is up considerably and they are confident their TV rights will go up.  Their rating exceeded the Stanley Cup in the demo.  They had ratings increases against the LA Lakers playing.

They were asked about the MENA TV rights and whether they were still talking the "Saudis or anyone else there."  Vince said they are still negotiating their rights and they are still in contact.  Vince said it will happen one day but he doesn't know what that day is.

They were asked about the potential changes of the WWE Network.  They are looking at anything except the sale of the WWE Network.  They are looking at licensing and are in "constant dialouge" about potentially licensing it domestically and globally.   

They are continuing to work on ideas internationally with the idea is to develop local content for international territories.

They were asked about viewership and consumption on the free version of the WWE Network.  Khan said some of the hours spent on the Network they touted includes the free tier.  There are no current plans to ad advertising to it but that could always change.  Stephanie said they are testing different technologies to use them in whatever strategic way they determine they'd like to do.

They were asked about potential cost structures for future years.  Salen said they are waiting for the return of live touring.  They may have to adjust the business model.  They have employees on furlough, which is a short term financial cut.  They are still going through their 2021 financial plan and how they will executive things for next year and advised everyone to keep those in mind as well.

They are looking for the right talents and right structure for the India event in 2021 so it makes sense for all parties involved.

Khan was asked for her perspective on ratings for not just WWE but sports and how the ecosystem impacts who the company partners with and how the content needs to adapt its content.  Khan said if you look at the traditional conglomerates' structures, they are all getting there with changes as they realize it's about content first.  They have to place it where consumers can easily access it.  Would it be shocking if Disney, for example, says they have great intellectual property, films and sports rights, could we be competitive and beat Netflix?  If you look at Universal's move, it's indicating the same things.  The important thing for their fans is that the current partners are happy with the product first and then look to the future.  If things turn into a streaming first world, they are prepared for it.

They were asked what it would take to significantly grow international rights.  Khan said we've seen Amazon has an appetite for the NFL and if you look at their recent executive hires, you don't make those hires unless you are preparing to make changes.  Could Netflix be testing to go live?  They are all going that direction and WWE could be there with them, with their current partners first, as Peacock grows or with future potential partners going forward.

Salen said the hope is furloughed employees are back by end of the year.  

They acknowledged they could return to live events but it could be for lesser earnings due to limited capacity but its too soon to even know for sure.

Post-Thunderdome October ratings have held up despite the "cluttered" fall season.

On running Saudi Arabia next year, Salen said that they are diligently working on the 2021 strategic focus and they will discuss the next quarter.

They are asked about whether they will be in the Amway Center going forward.  Salen said there will be somewhere similar to the Amway Center going forward and there's lots of potential places for them to go since there are no real live events utilizing the arenas.

They were asked about NXT on the USA Network.  Khan praised Triple H's team for their ratings last night.  They enjoy the USA Network relationship.  They declined to comment on the length of the USA deal but it's a "long enough deal" for the NXT team to grow the NXT brand.  They have seen Network subs growing even with NXT now on the USA.

They were asked if there was something NXT does that could be used to help Raw or Smackdown,.  Khan praised how the Raw and Smackdown ratings have held up and tap-danced out of answering that one.

Vince McMahon was asked what he and WWE wanted to see before he's willing to open the doors for fans again.  Vince said he was part of panel conference call with other executives and that was the extent of his discussing the issue with Donald Trump.  He said when COVID-19 "lets up" and its safe for fans and performers, that's all he can tell you in terms of when they will return.

For the first time that I can recall, they then stopped the call as opposed to going through all the waiting questions.

 Thank you for your support!

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