WWE Chairman Vince McMahon will be the subject of an upcoming documentary series on Netflix, as reported during WWE’s third quarter investor call on Thursday.
In describing the deal, Nick Khan, the company’s new President and Chief Revenue Officer, noted that the multi-part documentary, which will be directed by Chris Smith (Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened), will be one of the highest-budgeted documentaries in Netflix’s history.
Beyond that news, the majority of the one-hour call, attended mainly by investment houses and research firms, focused on the financial performance of the company for the past three months, and offered a bit of an outlook for the future.
McMahon kicked off the call, welcoming Khan and the company’s new Chief Financial Officer Kristina Salen to the company, and crediting them to bringing a new vibrancy to the C-suite, and noting that he’d “… never felt as confident as I currently do in terms of our new management (team).” Despite the impacts of COVID-19 on the company’s ability to run live events, McMahon touted the strength of the company, their strong track record, and their ability to adapt, and predicted that the new team will allow them to continue to succeed.
Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon echoed her father’s comments.
“We pivoted and we innovated,” she said, touting a few of the successes the company achieved in terms of strengthening its brand value, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted that the introduction of the Thunderdome allowed fans to experience the TV product in a new way that helps re-create the look and feel of a live event. She noted that since the Thunderdome was launched, ratings for RAW and Smackdown increased 6% and 12% respectively as compared to the ratings for the prior four weeks when the shows were held with no fans.
She pointed out that WWE’s channel is the fifth-most viewed channel on YouTube, recently surpassing 50 billion views, and the company is the second-most popular popular sports brand on Tik-Tok, behind only the NBA.
Vince McMahon and Khan both pointed out that TV ratings aren’t the only measure of success.
“Linear television has lost eyeballs,” said Khan, “viewership has not. Consumption of content for us is up significantly.” He pointed out that the number of WWE network subscriptions has increased, with paid subscribers averaging 1.6 million in Q3, during which over 2 million viewers watched over 37MM hours of content.
“We have far more fans now than we have ever had,” added McMahon. Though he did acknowledge that the company is aware of the lower ratings, and is always taking steps to grow them.
“Do we want to improve them? Of course we do. We are doing everything we can. (It’s a function of) better writing, better execution, and talent that people are interested in.”
Khan highlighted the high ratings for NXT as an example of that formula, praising Paul “Triple H” Levesque, the roster, and the team for the big night.
“As Vince said, we always want the best writing, we always want the best talent. To do that consistently 52 weeks a year is always going to be a challenge for our company, but I think it’s a challenge that we’ve always lived up to.”
Other highlights from the investor call:
- In Q3, revenues were $221.6MM (all figures USD), and Operating Income Before Depreciation and Amortization was $84.3MM, both figures increasingly significantly from the same quarter last year. The increases were driven primarily from rights fees related to US TV distribution agreements.
- Consumer Products revenue in the quarter totaled $19.9MM, which was a 17% increase from the same period last year. The increase was attributed to higher e-commerce sales, and increases in sales of toys and video games. With respect to the e-commerce (i.e. WWE Shop) increase, Salen mentioned the success of a new line of title belts, and new sub-sites devoted to WWE Legends and Up Up Down Down.
- The company held no live events during the quarter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the move to fixed-locations for TV production, the loss of ticket revenues were offset by production-related expense savings and other cost-saving measures.
- The company has no plans at the moment to change the free-tier version of the network. They are exploring alternative strategic options for the network in order to expand its global reach and economic returns, but a sale of the network is not being considered at this time.
- WWE is partnering with SONY networks in India to hold a 2021 event that will feature developing Indian superstars. The show will air in India and be distributed to the North American market as well, presumably as a network special. It was noted that they are pursuing more of these types of international deals, citing the NXT UK show as an example of a production that is largely handled overseas with local companies and teams.
- The company was unable to predict when ticketed live events will return. McMahon would not speculate, other than to say it would only be “when COVID lets up, and when it is safe for our fans to come in, and when it is safe for our performers.”
- In the meantime, they plan on continuing with the Thunderdome format, though not necessarily in the Amway Center, as there are reports that they may lose the venue in December when the NBA resumes. Salen pointed out that the lack of live events across the US means there are many other available arenas should that happen. “It’s not a concern of ours.”
- It was noted that the fourth quarter income is expected to be lower than Q3, due to the costs associated with the creating of the Thunderdome and the Capitol Wrestling Center (where NXT is now holding events), and due to personnel costs, as they expect that nearly every employee that was furloughed earlier this year (approximately 25% of their staff) will return to work by the end of the year. In addition, they will not be holding an event in Saudi Arabia in Q4, and that was a fairly large revenue source. Salen wasn’t able to comment as to whether or not there would be Saudi events in 2021, noting that the executive team are still working on next year’s operational and financial plan, but would provide an update on the next quarterly call.