Since the moment WWE announced Friday Night SmackDown was moving to USA Network in The United States, fans have been waiting to figure out where Monday Night Raw would go. Well, we finally have our answer, and it is an absolute gamechanger. Starting in 2025, Raw will be streaming exclusively on Netflix in The United States, Canada, The UK and Latin America with more locations to be added over time.
The announcement, which dropped this morning on Deadline is a shocker for two reasons. First, there were many, myself included, who weren’t convinced WWE would move one of its two flagship programs away from a traditional television network. The sports entertainment superpower has been thriving on network TV and basic cable for more than four decades, and with a multi-generational fanbase, it was unclear if WWE would want to make such a big move.
Second, despite Netflix saying for years it was open to entering the live sports game, many subscribers and Wall Street analysts had started to become skeptical the streaming powerhouse would ever make such a big move. The service had dabbled on a smaller scale, but this is the first time they’re making a major investment. And given the numbers, this is a major investment.
The numbers haven’t been made official, but the figure being thrown around is over five billion dollars for 10 years of broadcasting rights. Even for Netflix that typically spends more than $15B a year on content, that’s a major investment, but it’s a gamble that could pay off in a big way. WWE has one of the most loyal fanbases in the world, and a healthy percentage of its fans watch the program live every week. Netflix has been pushing ad-supported plans for awhile now, and this will represent a major chance to monetize on a live event. In fact, given how Monday Night Raw is currently formatted, it seems likely even Netflix subscribers who pay for an ad-free plan will likely get ads here, or, at a minimum, integrated marketing into the product.
I’m a hardcore wrestling fan who watches both Raw and SmackDown every week. There’s definitely been some subtle but important changes to the creative process and on-air product since longtime primary owner Vince McMahon sold WWE to UFC’s parent company Endeavor last year, but this is, at least for me, the most jarring example of a change in leadership we’ve seen. It’s a risk but also a very forward-thinking move for WWE and a great chance to build a new audience on the most popular streaming service in the world.
In addition to Monday Night Raw, Netflix will also begin streaming WWE’s other programming for subscribers outside The United States. That means Smackdown, NXT and even the premium live events will be going to Netflix for those living outside The United States. Fans will also be able to watch documentaries and other programming, though whether that includes WWE’s entire backlog is unclear. Those within The United States will continue to have access via Peacock.
I’m always a little uncomfortable with major changes, but even so, I am absolutely fired up about this. Wrestling always ebbs and flows in popularity. It was very culturally relevant and absolutely massive during Hulkamania and the late 1980s. Over thirty million people watched Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant for their rematch on Main Event, as an example. Then popularity really receded in the mid 1990s until Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and The Monday Night Wars set off the Attitude Era and another boom period into the early 2000s. John Cena and others have helped carry the torch the last two decades, but wrestling hasn’t quite been able to find the same level of cultural impact.
I don’t want to overstate things, but this deal is a chance for WWE to usher in another golden age. If you haven’t been watching the product on a regular basis over the last year or two, let me deliver some good news: wrestling has started to get good again. Paul Levesque, better known to wrestling fans as Triple H, has taken the reins of creative from his father-in-law Vince McMahon, and the storytelling has been better than we’ve seen in a long time. Given the amount they’ve paid, Netflix will likely feature WWE programming in very prominent places in its interface, and it could create the conditions for both lapsed wrestling fans and new wrestling fans to give the product another shot.
I am beyond fired up, and WWE fans should be too. I can’t wait to see what happens next.