WWE Partners with Discovery to Stream Pro Wrestling in Italy

WWE and Discovery June 24 announced a new multi-year agreement in Italy beginning July 1 that will make WWE’s weekly flagship programming available exclusively live and on-demand with original U.S. commentary on DPlay Plus, Discovery’s SVOD platform, along with versions featuring Italian commentary on DMAX (Channel 52).

Every week, Dplay Plus will air “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night SmackDown” live. NXT will be available on-demand via Dplay Plus every Thursday morning.

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WWE fans can also watch with Italian commentary by Luca Franchini and Michele Posa on Discovery’s free-to-air channel, DMAX. A two-hour version of Raw will premiere on Mondays starting July 13; SmackDown will air on Tuesdays and re-run on Sundays; NXT will air on Saturdays and re-run on Sundays.

“We are thrilled to embark on a new chapter for WWE in Italy as we bring our unique blend of action-packed, family-friendly sports entertainment to Discovery’s free-to-air and premium channels,” Stefan Kastenmüller, SVP, GM, WWE, said in a statement. “We are excited that our relationship with Discovery is enhancing the fan experience in Italy with both primetime and family-friendly timeslots.”

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Alessandro Araimo, managing director, Discovery Italy, said WWE has “conquered a very wide audience” and “we are confident that our channels and platforms can help to further expand the very large Italian fanbase.”

Raw, SmackDown and NXT with Italian commentary will also be available on-demand via Dplay. WWE’s two weekly recap series, “Bottom Line” and “Afterburn,” will be available with original commentary from Dplay Plus.

The agreement with WWE will make the Dplay Plus premium content offer even more exclusive with the platform subscription price unchanged at 3.99 euros ($4.50) per month.

WWE’s monthly pay-per-view events, including WrestleMania and SummerSlam, will stream exclusively on WWE Network in Italy.

WWE Q1 Surprise: Home Entertainment Revenue Surges

Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) reported $62.5 million in “other” media revenue for the first quarter (ended March 31) — a category that includes disc sales. That compared to $9.4 million in revenue during the previous-year period. The revenue surge was largely due to the favorable timing of the company’s large-scale international event “Super ShowDown,” in addition to theatrical and direct-to-home video DVDs sold at Walmart, Target, Best Buy and other big-box retailers.

Separately, WWE Network, the company’s subscription streaming video platform, saw average paid subscribers decrease 8% to about 1.46 million, consistent with company’s guidance. McMahon and senior management are attempting to restructure the $9.99 monthly SVOD, including expanding distribution internationally.

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McMahon said the quarter’s financial performance was largely unimpacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, but added the situation could change going forward.

“We are in the midst of unprecedented times, which require us to be especially nimble, creative and efficient in order to ensure the long-term value of WWE,” McMahon said in a statement.

Indeed, the executive earlier this month permanently shuttered his pet pro football project, the XFL, for the second time with no plans to bring the league back in 2021. Featuring former college football players and NFL rejects, the XFL lasted halfway through a 10-game season before being shut down due to concerns about COVID-19.

The WWE also relocated its annual Wrestlemania event, slated for late March, to its Orlando training center, holding matches without any crowds.

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Interim CFO Frank Riddick said that ongoing uncertainties of the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the business have resulted in reduced employee, talent and other costs and delayed approximately $140 million in capital spending related to the WWE’s new headquarters.

“This was done to strengthen our financial performance going forward and to ensure we have the resources necessary to execute our value creation strategy,” Riddick said.

Sony Pictures, WWE Partner for India Distribution

Sony Pictures Networks India Private Ltd. and WWE March 31 announced a five-year extension with an expanded broadcast/streaming agreement.

The deal will deliver WWE’s weekly flagship programming and localized content in India and the Indian subcontinent, making SPN the exclusive home to WWE in-ring content across its television and digital platforms.

After China, India, with more than 1.35 billion people, has a bigger population than the next five most populous nations — the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria — combined.

That’s why Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and, now, Sony Pictures and WWE, all place India high on their SVOD distribution lists.

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As part of the agreement, SPN will have the rights to air “Raw,” “SmackDown,” “NXT” as well as WWE pay-per-view specials live on its sports and digital platforms in English, Hindi and regional languages.

The expanded partnership also provides SPN the rights to WWE Network, which hosts thousands of hours of content to be made available to audiences in India through SonyLIV, SPN’s over-the-top video platform.

SPN will curate content from WWE’s extensive video library, which includes live events, classic matches, interviews with Legends, reality shows and documentaries, among other content, on its own platforms.

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“WWE has been consistently ranking in the top three properties across all sports networks in India, dominating the sports entertainment space,” Rajesh Kaul, head sports and chief revenue officer distribution at Sony Pictures Networks India, said in a statement.

James Rosenstock, EVP of WWE International, says India remains a strategically important market for WWE, adding that locally based SPN has been an “extraordinary” partner in helping to grow the pro wrestling fanbase in the region.

“The partnership gives our passionate fans new opportunities to engage with the WWE brand,” Rosenstock said

WWE is one of the most-watched sports properties in India, and India ranks #No. 1 for WWE YouTube consumption and No. 1 in WWE Facebook followers, according to the company.

While there remains a shutdown on live performance events, WWE has been actively recruiting Indian athletes and performers. Last year, WWE hosted its largest tryout in history, where more than 70 top athletes from India showcased their abilities in Mumbai. Four Indian recruits were selected to begin training at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla.

Quibi Getting in the WWE Ring

Pending short-form mobile video streaming service Quibi has signed a production deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for original series “Fight Like a Girl,” featuring performers Sasha Banks, Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Alexa Bliss, Sonya Deville, Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, Becky Lynch and Natalya.

In each episode, Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer of WWE, pairs a performer with a young woman struggling with a personal issue. The WWE Superstars draw from their own life experiences to help their trainees overcome obstacles and become tougher, stronger and healthier versions of their former selves inside and out.

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“This strong cast of Superstars are leaders and role models who each have personal stories of challenge, perseverance and triumph,” McMahon said in a statement. “We are thrilled to have them on board to help young women find both their inner and outer strength and overcome adversity in their lives.”

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Quibi, which is the brainchild of DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP CEO Meg Whitman, is scheduled to launch on April 6 with a two-tier pricing system: $4.99 with ads, $7.99 without.

WWE Partners with TikTok

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has partnered with TikTok, marketing select wrestlers to the social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012.

WWE is making 30 of its wrestlers available on TikTok, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Ultimate Warrior, Becky Lynch, John Cena and Sasha Banks. The branded wrestlers’ onstage themes and music are embedded within TikTok’s library of music artists.

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“We are thrilled to be launching this partnership which offers a new level of engagement with WWE content by enabling the TikTok community to create their own shareable stories tied to WWE‘s world renowned Superstars,” Jayar Donlan, EVP of advanced media, said in a statement.

TikTok’s Mayan Scharf hopes the partnership captures the “passion and thrill” of wrestling on social media.

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“We’re looking forward to bringing the excitement of the WWE experience to TikTok’s global community,” Scharf said.

WWE Streaming Video Service Losing Subs, Pins Hopes on Linear TV

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has new TV broadcast deals with Fox and Comcast, which couldn’t come at a better time for the showbiz promoter.

That’s because WWE’s forays into subscription-based over-the-top video to supplant waning packaged-media sales are flatlining.

The company’s flagship WWE Network averaged 1.51 million paid subscribers the third quarter (ended Sept.30), consistent with downward guidance through the first nine months of the fiscal year.

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Average paid subs decreased 9% primarily driven by the impact of lower subscriber additions earlier in the year. For the fourth quarter, WWE projects average paid subscribers of approximately 1.43 million, representing a year-over-year decline of 10%.

Digital video views increased 12% on a year-over-year basis to 25.6 billion and hours consumed increased 14% to 957 million hours across digital and social platforms.

Media revenue increased to $146.1 million from $142.1 million in the prior year quarter, primarily due to the contractual escalation of core content rights fees, including license fees from the distribution of flagship programs “Raw” and “SmackDown,” as well as the timing and performance of WWE Studios’ portfolio releases.

That’s music to the ears of WWE founder/CEO Vince McMahon.

“With our flagship programming now spanning both broadcast and cable throughout the week in the U.S. and our expanding roster of international distribution partners, we remain excited about our ability to deepen the engagement with our fans around the world,” McMahon said.

 

Fighting With My Family

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 5/14/19;
Universal/MGM;
Comedy;
Box Office $22.96 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content.
Stars Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant.

The notion that professional wrestling is “fake” is pervasive enough that most people don’t realize it’s a world just as competitive as any sport. It’s just the indicators of success aren’t strictly focused on the results in the ring.

As is made abundantly clear in the very entertaining Fighting With My Family, while the results of wrestling matches are more or less fixed as a means of storytelling and showmanship, the athleticism on display is just as genuine as any contest where the results aren’t predetermined.

The film tells the story of WWE superstar Paige, who emerged from a family of wrestlers in England to become one of the top female performers in the world’s biggest pro-wrestling promotion.

With her family’s small promotion struggling to get by, Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother, Zak (Jack Lowden) are invited to a WWE tryout. But when Paige is the only one deemed worthy of potential superstardom, the siblings must come to terms with the notion that one’s dream and one’s destiny might lead to separate paths.

For Paige, that means leaving her family to train in America, and dealing with the hardships of trying to fit in when it seems she doesn’t quite fit in. For Zak, it means coming to terms with the idea that maybe his place isn’t in the spotlight, but quietly working behind the scenes to further the traditions of his family profession.

Fighting With My Family is based on a British TV documentary about Paige and her family and their passion for professional wrestling. Director Stephen Merchant has refocused the story into a rather typical sports movie underdog tale, playing fast-and-loose with the reality it for a more concise narrative.

Vince Vaughn’s character of Hutch Morgan, for example, is a composite of a variety of WWE authorities Paige would have encountered during her training in the NXT developmental program, essentially the minor leagues of wrestling.

The movie also skips over dealing with NXT’s own championship hierarchy, where using it might have giving a better sense of Paige’s progress within the company aside from her reactions to a few contentious exchanges with Hutch, and some encouraging words from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who pops in to play himself.

As such, the film’s climactic result seems a bit forced within the context of the story beats the movie itself has established, a development owing more to being a re-creation of the real event than something the film’s version of events has earned. Merchant’s comedic background serves the offbeat moments of the story well, but he admittedly wasn’t aware of the inner workings of professional wrestling before taking on the task of helming the film, and a few beats focused more on the mechanics of pro-wrestling storytelling might have been warranted.

Still, aided by some great performances by the main cast, the film offers plenty of heartfelt sentiment in celebrating the power of family to fuel the pursuit of a lifelong dream and find comfort and contentment when things don’t always go according to plan.

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Home video extras include nine minutes of deleted scenes, a three-minute gag reel, a nine-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a three-minute video about training for the physicality in the film. Merchant also provides an audio commentary for the film.

The Blu-ray also features an “unrated director’s cut” of the film, but the alterations are so minor that its inclusion seems like more of a marketing gimmick than anything of consequential artistic value. That being said, based on the few identifiable differences, my preference tends to lean toward the unrated cut, which actually runs three seconds shorter than the theatrical version.

The changes don’t alter the story in any way and consist mostly of alternate takes featuring slightly cruder dialogue to get the same message across.

I’ve managed to identify five alterations:

1) A slightly faster edit for a key joke during the dinner scene of Zak’s girlfriend’s parents meeting his family;
2) The Rock having a slightly different reaction to Paige’s shock at meeting him for the first time;
3) A more grotesque line of dialogue from an audience member reacting to Paige’s first introduction to an NXT crowd;
4) A faster edit of Zak getting into a bar fight; and
5) An obscenity as Hutch is testing Paige’s comebacks to potential crowd insults.

Also note that while Universal is distributing the Blu-ray, the film is an MGM production and thus the digital copy is not compatible with Movies Anywhere, but redeemable only through iTunes.

WarnerMedia Partners for New Pro Wrestling League

Move over WWE, there’s a new professional wrestling league coming to broadcast TV, streaming video and pay-per-view — backed by WarnerMedia.

The media company May 15 announced it is partnering with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), an upstart professional wrestling promotion featuring male and female wrestlers, to begin airing weekly “authentic” wrestling matches later this year.

With a goal of making pro wrestling less scripted soapy drama and more real sports legitimacy, WarnerMedia aims to build the league into a global franchise.

Wrestlers will be given more freedom to explore their characters and highlight their athletic abilities. The league will include statistics to wrestling to help fans deepen their engagement by tracking each competitor’s wins and losses as the wrestlers pursue championships, analyzing their moves, assessing damage to their opponents, and providing insights into their winning streaks.

Founded by CEO Tony Khan, AEW is headlined by wrestlers The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson), Cody and Brandi Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and Hangman Page, and a roster that includes former WWE star Chris Jericho.

Omega, Cody and The Young Bucks also serve as EVPs of the company in addition to in-ring talent, and Brandi Rhodes also serves as chief brand officer.

WarnerMedia will provide multi-platform access for fans to watch AEW events, airing live weekly matches on TNT in primetime, as well as streaming them through WarnerMedia’s Bleacher Report Live (B/R Live) streaming service and on pay-per-view.

“All Elite Wrestling is a talent-forward, fan-first league whose inclusive approach to creating high-quality athletic wrestling competitions is already making waves with fans and attracting top-tier wrestlers,” Michael Quigley, EVP of commercial operations, content strategy and monetization at TBS and TNT, said in a statement.

B/R Live will serve as the exclusive digital streaming partner in the U.S. for AEW’s inaugural event, “Double of Nothing,” on May 25, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The event, which reportedly sold out in under 30 minutes, features a fight card including headliners Omega and Jericho; Cody taking on his brother Dustin Rhodes; The Young Bucks battling the Lucha Bros for the AAA World Tag Team Championship; Hangman Adam Page clashing with PAC; and Britt Baker, Nyla Rose and Kylie Rae competing in a three-way match.

Additionally, the hour-long live pre-show special, “The Buy-In” will stream on WarnerMedia and AEW’s social media channels.

The show includes the first ever “Casino (Battle) Royale,” which will see 21 competitors, including Jimmy Havoc, Billy Gunn, MJF and Jungle Boy entering the ring in waves of five wrestlers every three minutes followed by one final entrant, lucky number 21, all fighting it out in the ring until there is one winner, whose reward will be a future title shot against the first ever AEW World Champion.

“Wrestling fans have wanted — and needed — something different and authentic,” said Khan.

‘Fighting With My Family’ Director’s Cut on Digital April 30, Disc May 14

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release MGM’s Fighting With My Family digitally April 30, and on Blu-ray and DVD May 14.

Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the comedy set in the world of professional wrestling is based on the true story of WWE Superstar Paige (Florence Pugh). Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Page and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are invited to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must dig deep to prove she can become a star. The cast includes Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays himself and also produced the film.

Fighting With My Family earned $22.5 million at the domestic box office.

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The Blu-ray combo pack will include a director’s cut of the film with new and extended scenes not seen in theaters.

The DVD and Blu-ray will include deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, a commentary with Merchant, the featurette “A Family’s Passion: A Making Of” and a “Learning the Moves” featurette about depicting the wrestling scenes in the film.

Disney Outranks Netflix and Amazon Prime in Brand Study

Disney ranked No. 1 followed by Amazon Prime and Netflix in the media and entertainment industry portion of MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2019 Study.

The study is the largest study of brands based on emotions, according to the company.

Disney rose in the ranking from fifth overall in the 2018 study to first this year.

The remaining brands in the Top 10 for the media & entertainment industry were, in order, PlayStation, YouTube, Xbox, Nintendo, Hulu, HBO and WWE.

MBLM defines Brand Intimacy as “the emotional science that measures the bonds we form with the brands we use and love.” Top intimate brands in the U.S. continued to significantly outperform the top brands in the Fortune 500 and S&P indices in both revenue and profit over the past 10 years, according to the study.

“Media & entertainment continues to be our most intimate industry,” Mario Natarelli, managing partner of MBLM, said in a statement. “The need to escape reality, consume content on demand, and lose ourselves in stories is a powerful combination of factors. Disney is leveraging its nostalgic associations to cultivate stronger bonds with customers. It has also improved its performance with men, while continuing to innovate and expand its offerings.”

Additional findings in the media and entertainment industry were:

  • Disney was the No. 1 brand with both men and women as well respondents aged 45-64;
  • Disney was also the top brand for people making over $100,000;
  • YouTube ranked first for millennials;
  • YouTube also ranked first for those making $35,000-$50,000; and
  • Media and entertainment was also the No. 1 industry for millennials.

The Brand Intimacy 2019 Study is based on the responses of 6,200 consumers and 56,000 brand evaluations across 15 industries in the United States, Mexico and the UAE. To view the media & entertainment industry findings, please click here. To download the full Brand Intimacy 2019 Study or explore the Data Dashboard click here.