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AEW and WWE Ratings Report: The History Of RAW’s First-To-Third Hour Decline

first to third hour declines raw

With cable news ratings still up from normal levels but way down from last week, both AEW Dynamite and NXT saw slight ratings increases. Smackdown had its best numbers in months coming on a night when president-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation.

This week’s numbers:

AEW Dynamite on TNT averaged 764,000 viewers on Wednesday November 11th, up 6.6% from last week. The show averaged a 0.30 in the 18-49 demo, identical to last week, and 17th overall on cable for the night. It was the 2nd highest rated non-news program in that category.

On the USA Network, NXT averaged 632,000 viewers, up 3.6% from last week. In 18-49, the show averaged a 0.16 rating, up 14.3% from last week. NXT finished 56th in the demo and 18th among non-news shows.

Overall Wednesday night viewership was 1.396 million, up 5.2% from last week. It was the 3rd lowest number since June 10th after some recent strong ratings. The combined 18-49 number of 0.46 was up 4.5% from last week, but it’s still the lowest number in that category since July 15th.

The November 9th episode of Monday Night RAW on USA averaged 1.69 million viewers, up 2% from last week. In 18-49, the show averaged a 0.53 rating, up 10.4% from last week. That’s the strongest number since October 14th of last week and, as reported by Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio, it was mainly due to an increase in female viewers.

FOX’s Friday Night Smackdown on November 6th averaged 2.315 million viewers, up 1.3% from last week. That was the 2nd highest number for the show since April 10th, the post-WrestleMania episode. In 18-49, the show averaged a 0.7 rating, tying the highest number in that category since March 20th, the first show of the pandemic era.

Year-over-year comparisons:

AEW Dynamite was down 20.2% in overall viewership and down 30.2% in the 18-49 demo.

NXT was down 15.7% in overall viewership and 36% in the 18-49 demo.

Overall Wednesday night viewership was down 18.2%. The combined 18-49 demo number was down 32.4%.

Monday Night RAW was down 17.9% in overall viewership and 17.2% in the 18-49 demo.

Smackdown was down 11.3% in overall viewership and 22.2% in the 18-49 demo.

Ratings extra:

Three hours is just too long.

It’s a common complaint and a barrier of entry for new fans for WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night RAW. It wasn’t always that way. The show debuted in 1993 as a one-hour show. In 1995, WCW counter-programmed with Monday Nitro on TNT and after early ratings success, the show expanded from one hour to two. The WWF followed suit soon after.

After over a year of ratings (83 weeks!) domination, WCW decided to increase the two hours to three. This was one of many reasons why their numbers started to fall. When Vince Russo took over the book in late 1999, one of the things he asked for, and got, was a reduction to two hours, which led to an artificial, but small, ratings increase. It obviously wasn’t even close to enough and the company was out of business in March 2001.

Fast forward to just over a decade. WWE, the former WWF, is now the only major national wrestling company in North America and doing strong ratings on Monday night, getting 10s of millions of dollars a year in rights fees from the USA Network, which wanted an extra hour of the show. Sporadic three-hour specials once or twice a year always led to increased ratings and the show, more often than, increased in audience as the show went on, as did most wrestling and sports events traditionally.

People who studied ratings extensively and especially those who witnessed the demise of WCW, warned what would happen. An over-saturation of the show would eventually lead to reduced ratings and the extra revenue for the additional hour of programming would come at the cost of less overall interest in the company.

The three hour RAW officially debuted on July 23, 2012. That debut episode averaged 6.013 million viewers with the hours doing 5.43 million, 6.31 million and 6.3 million respectively. It was a loaded up, special show and that number was about 25% higher than what the show had been averaging in the weeks leading up to that.

In the 52 weeks prior to that date, Monday Night RAW averaged 4.499 million viewers. The first hour of the show averaged 4.533 million viewers with the 2nd hour averaging 4.511 million.

Beginning on July 23, 2012, the next 52 weeks averaged 4.221 million viewers. The first hour averaged 4.135 million. The 2nd hour averaged 4.327 million and the 3rd hour averaged 4.186 million. The show had an average increase of 1.2% from Hour 1 to Hour 3, which is the key number I’m looking at here.

Over the next 52 weeks, the show averaged 4.161 million viewers. Hour 1 averaged 4.138 million. Hour 2 averaged 4.26 million and Hour 3 averaged 4.084 million. By year two of the three-hour RAW, we were already seeing a decline over the course of the show after the first year increase. The decline was small, at 1.3%, but it was was there.

The next 52 weeks, ending in 2015, saw the show average 3.934 million viewers. This was also the first full year of the WWE Network. My theory is that this is when a lot of hardcore fans stopped watching RAW as the Network gave them all the wrestling they could ever want to watch and the new product was getting pretty stale. The third hour declines were even sharper this year. Hour 1 averaged 3.962 million viewers. Hour 2 averaged 4.022 million with hour 3 averaging 3.837 million. That was a decline of 3.2% from Hour 1 to Hour 3.

Over the next year, the show averaged 3.444 million. Hour 1 averaged 3.551 million viewers. Hour 2 averaged 3.504 million. That’s the first time that hour 1 was the most viewed hour, on average, since the 3-hour RAWs began. Hour 3 dropped to 3.295 million, a decline of 7.2% from Hour 1 to Hour 3.

For the next 52 weeks that ended in July 2017, the show averaged 3.001 million viewers. The first hour averaged 3.093 million. Hour 2 averaged 3.072 million. Hour 3 saw the first 52-week average fall below 3 million to 2.862 million viewers. The first-to-third hour decline continued to get larger, this time declining to 7.46%.

The next 52-week period averaged 3.019 million viewers. Yes, a viewership increase. This just so happened to be the year that WWE was negotiating a new TV deal and they ended up with $2.3 billion in US television rights fees for five years for RAW and Smackdown. This was also the debut of Ronda Rousey with the company. The show averaged 3.167 million in hour 1. Hour 2 averaged 3.103 million. But hour 3 was still below 3 million, averaging 2.821 million. As it had done every year, the first-to-third hour decline increased again, this time averaging 10.9%.

For the 52 weeks ending in July 2019, the show averaged 2.524 million viewers. With the contracts for the new TV deal signed, the ratings decline accelerated from the pace it had done in previous years. For the first time, all 3 hours of RAW averaged under 3 million. Hour 1 averaged 2.666 million. Hour 2 averaged 2.567 million. Hour 3 averaged 2.347 million. The first-to-third hour decline was now 11.96%.

The final 52-week period ended on July 6, 2020. RAW averaged 2.168 million viewers over this time frame. Hour 1 averaged 2.284 million. Hour 2 averaged 2.216 million. Hour 3 averaged 2.006 million. The first-to-third hour decline continues to grow, now at 12.2%.

Since July 6th, RAW has averaged 1.728 million viewers. Hour 1 has averaged 1.826 million viewers. Hour 2 averaged 1.762 million with hour 3 averaging 1.597 million. If you’re following along, you won’t be surprised to see that the first-to-third hour decline is still growing, now at 12.5%.

Since the advent of the 3-hour RAW, first-to-third hour declines have increased every single year. Every single year, with the exception of 2018, the show has also had an overall ratings decline that I believe can be directly tied to the first-to-third hour decrease. My theory is that once people started skipping the third hour, it became that much easier to skip the whole show.

There is no reason to believe that these declines won’t continue. However, RAW is still consistently one of the top rated shows in the 18-49 demo on Monday nights and will likely get another rights fees increase when a new deal is negotiated, in or around 2022.

One more interesting note.
Smackdown on FOX, which is only 2 hours, more often than not, has a higher rated 2nd hour than the first. This past week was an exception but it’s usually about a 1-3% increase from Hour 1 to Hour 2. FOX only has two primetime hours on weeknights so it’s unlikely that show would ever increase in length, despite the relatively strong recent ratings.

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