While I probably should have written this column a few months ago when the Destination America deal was first announced, I thought that now would be a good time in light of last week’s IMPACT Wrestling debut on the cable channel, which brought in just over half a million viewers between the first run airing and the replay. Even though the content of this column may be a little bit late in terms of the larger discussion around IMPACT Wrestling and Destination America, I hope that you enjoy the ideas presented here anyway.
Last week, I was e-mailing with a good friend of mine regarding TNA’s new television deal with Discovery Communications. He wanted to know if the new deal was going to be good or bad for IMPACT Wrestling and – without hesitation – I said that it would be better for the company. Sure, some folks would expect that response from me because of the fact that I’m an avowed TNA fan. However, I had other reasons to quickly respond with a “yes” answer. And paramount among those reasons is the fact that moving from Spike to Destination America “right sizes” IMPACT Wrestling’s footprint on television.
I shall explain.
First, by moving to a channel that is available in 57 million homes versus the 99 million that Spike is available in, IMPACT Wrestling is better fitting the audience that it currently draws. Now, someone out there is reading this right now thinking in terms of Business 101 and saying, “But, wouldn’t you WANT to be in front of more eyeballs if you’re a smaller company?” The answer is yes… maybe. One of the things that stalls many young companies and young entrepreneurs is the dilemma of the dog who catches the fire truck. Once that dog catches the fire truck – then what? He can’t possibly do anything with it.
The same applies to a young, small, and (let’s be honest) mostly regionally-based wrestling company that gets itself a television contract with a major cable channel like Spike. Instantly upon signing that contract, the wrestling company needs to perform at a higher level. And performing at a higher level means money – a resource that the owners of TNA have in amounts that far exceed the owners of their competition (the Carters could buy and sell the McMahons ten times over), but a resource that the company itself didn’t have in amounts necessary to produce a television show that met the viewership demands of Spike.
Moving to a smaller television channel with a smaller national reach reduces the demand on IMPACT Wrestling to bring in a certain number of eyeballs as well as a certain level of media coverage. In other words, what Destination America expects from IMPACT Wrestling is going to be far less than what Spike expected. Destination America is looking for a flagship show that it can use to promote its other television shows while Spike wanted a non-WWE version of WWE, but with similar viewership as WWE. Removing that pressure to be a non-WWE version of WWE allows IMPACT Wrestling to focus on their in-ring action, television production, and business ventures outside of the ring much more than they could under Spike.
Second, IMPACT Wrestling was never ready to partner with a big media conglomerate like Viacom (the owner of Spike). And, frankly, Viacom is a bad partner for wrestling companies. They were bad to the original ECW and they were bad to WWE when RAW was on the channel. The only cross channel synergy that WWE really pulled out of Viacom was the continuation of Heat on MTV. Other than that, you didn’t see major WWE performers frequently appearing across the Viacom family of channels. WWE has a much better partner with Comcast through its NBC Universal division. Not only does RAW dominate the ratings on Comcast’s USA Network, but WWE helped to build that channel over the years. And Smackdown! has been a great anchor for Comcast’s SyFy since it moved to that channel just as Total Divas is a great show for Comcast’s E! channel. The NBC Universal family also gives WWE access to occasional Saturday Night’s Main Event airings on NBC as well as the possibility for WWE talent to appear across all of NBC’s channels.
Viacom didn’t want to do that for IMPACT Wrestling just like they didn’t really do that for WWE. Discovery Communications, on the other hand, has indicated that it is very interested in working with IMPACT Wrestling as a partner. And all of the evidence that you need of that desire is what they’re allowing IMPACT Wrestling to do with their programming on Destination America as their contract begins this month. Just as a quick example – Destination America and IMPACT Wrestling have announced no less than 56 hours of wrestling programming airing on the channel in the month of January alone! FIFTY-SIX HOURS!
That is unheard of in cable television. It’s also unheard of in professional wrestling.
And on top of that I think that Destination America will put more hours of programming on as the month continues. For comparison’s sake, Spike aired 8 hours of IMPACT Wrestling in December 2014 and just 6 hours in November 2014. Now, is that type of “support” indicative of a cable channel or corporate parent who wants to be a partner with one of their primary television producers? Of course not.
Discovery Communications is giving IMPACT Wrestling 7 times as much airtime in January 2015 than they had last month – that’s how a real partnership works. And the Discovery Communications family has already experienced some good interaction from the IMPACT Wrestling team from Eric Young’s Off the Hook: Extreme Catches program on their Animal Planet channel. In addition to Animal Planet, some other channels (this is not a complete list) in the Discovery Communications family include Velocity, OWN (Oprah’s Network), TLC, the American Heroes Channel, Science, Discovery Life Channel, and the granddaddy of the group – the Discovery Channel. The connections that can be made between IMPACT Wrestling and this suite of channels are endless. It’s not out of the question to think that we’ll see a special about Mr. Anderson, Gunner, and Chris Melendez on the American Heroes Channel. And what about a special featuring Jessie Godderz and Robbie E. and their workout routines on the Discovery Life Channel? I also think we could see a series of truly behind the scenes exposés on professional wrestling on TLC.
But the big jewel for this partnership, I think, is the potential use of the Discovery Channel. For those of you who thought earlier in this column that TNA should be trying to get in front of more eyes and not less eyes, then the Discovery Channel is the answer to your concern. As I write this, the Discovery Channel is available in 99 million homes in America and another 300+ million homes around the world. For comparison’s sake, the USA Network is available in about as many homes in America (about 250,000 less homes than Discovery) and only a few million more homes worldwide (WWE, of course, has television deals around the world so their programming still gets out there). Spike is available in about as many homes as the USA Network (which is still about 100,000 less than Discovery) and also a few million homes around the globe.
Now, I have absolutely no knowledge of TNA’s deal with Discovery Communications or what Dixie Carter has planned for the company. However, I don’t think it’s out of the question for IMPACT Wrestling to feature on the Discovery Channel one night every year. In fact, I don’t think it’s out of the question for IMPACT Wrestling to feature across the entire suite of Discovery Communications’ channels during a single weekend each year.
Think about this scenario… IMPACT Wrestling succeeds in bringing in new eyeballs to Destination America and the executives at Discovery Communications are really happy. The family of channels starts to produce random, one-hour specials using some of the IMPACT Wrestling stars as the focus (refer to my list a few paragraphs above). Those specials draw in new eyeballs to those channels and Discovery Communications gets happier. Carter asks for one weekend in October – let’s call it Bound for Glory Weekend – to really feature her company across the entire suite of channels. One weekend where Animal Planet plays a marathon of the Eric Young shows, where the American Heroes Channel plays their specials on TNA wrestlers with military histories several times each day, where TLC shows their exposés several times each day, etc.
And in the corner of each channel in the lineup, all weekend long, there is a watermark promoting TNA Bound for Glory 2015 airing LIVE (from the United Kingdom?!) on the Discovery Channel at 8pm on Sunday night.
That’s right – I think that in an effort to showcase their product on a larger scale while still being on a right-sized television channel like Destination America, the team at IMPACT Wrestling should consider giving away Bound for Glory for free – so long as they get to promote it across the entire family of Discovery Communications channels and they get to air it on one of the most available cable channels on the planet – the Discovery Channel.
Now that would be a partnership that rivals what WWE has with Comcast. It would also be a right-sized partnership for TNA and Discovery Communications.
And it would be the right type of “new” thinking that professional wrestling on television is desperate for right now.