Brother, Can You Share a Hundred Million?

AEW Dynamite is TV gold, and Warner is reaping the rewards

In heady times, speculation is a siren’s call. “I’m not selling,” Tony Khan may contemplate, “but could I get a billion if I did?”

The Worldwide Reader is proud of its AEW prediction record. From the moment news of the trademarks leaked (and with an assist from a wrestling industry insider who fleshed out the details), the Reader has believed the following: Kenny Omega & the Young Bucks would sever ties with Ring of Honor & New Japan completely, Tony Khan would spend in the mid-ten figures (with a willingness to approach $100 million, if necessary), and Dynamite would end up in a prime time spot on a major Warner Media (then known as Turner Broadcasting) network. Many followers of the business scoffed at the Reader. Today, all three predictions feel as obvious as a western sunset.

There is one AEW prediction the Worldwide Reader missed. (And boyyyyyy, did it miss badly.) Back in late 2018, the reader expected 750,000 viewers for the AEW Dynamite premiere, with a settled weekly viewership number around 375,000. The Reader was wrong, happy to be wrong, and is completely done doubting the big business prospects of the “5-star match” style of professional wrestling.

After four weeks, AEW Dynamite appears to have settled into its TV niche. It draws about a million viewers each week, it pulls about a 0.45 rating in the 18-49 age demographic, and it skews young overall (meaning that its 18-34 rating is higher than its 25-54 or 50+ ratings).

The latter two TV ratings factoids are the keys, because they should not be possible. 0.45 demo ratings do not happen on cable television, aside from major sports (NFL, NBA, college football & basketball), successful reality TV shows, and heavily promoted original series. Skewing young also does not happen, except for late night comedy programming (meaning Adult Swim, not talk shows like Samantha Bee or The Daily Show, which draw mostly from the Lipitor demographic) and other low viewership fare. (The kids watch Netflix and YouTube nowadays, haven’t ya heard?)

What’s more, AEW Dynamite airs every week. The Real Housewives may beat Dynamite’s viewership and match its 18-49 demo rating, but they are a confection. They flutter in and out of the cable TV universe in ten episode dalliances. Bravo TV executives need to find something else to fill their airwaves forty weeks a year. Plus, AEW’s flagship is two hours. The Housewives’ partner in Bravo’s two-hour Tuesday primetime block drew a 0.09 demo rating this week.

It has only been four weeks. The pattern is so strong, though. Debuting at a 0.68 demo rating, then falling significantly next week (to a 0.46, to be exact) was rather expected. Continuing declines, especially with the baseball playoffs getting hot and the NBA season starting up, were expected, at least by the Reader. Dynamite did not decline; posting 0.44 in week three, prior to the aforementioned 0.45 this week. There appears to be no reason — aside from an unforseen nosedive in the quality of the show — that AEW Dynamite would tail off, as so many hot starting TV properties do.

Tony, Cody and the Bucks have created a winner. Dynamite is a $100 million per year TV property. Two million bucks per week for two full hours of young-skewing, 0.45 demo ratings? Any major cable network — and perhaps one or two broadcast networks — would sign up for that. Networks can sell advertisements on it independently, they can package bulk ad buys with other sports properties, and they can use it to help retain and increase subscriber fees from cable and satellite companies. A hundred mil may even be underselling Dynamite’s TV worth.

The only mitigating issue — from AEW’s perspective, at least — is that Warner Media will reap most of the benefits. Reports have AEW tied to TNT on a five year contract where Warner essentially covers production costs, which amount to about $300 thousand per episode. Plus, Warner’s Bleacher Report is AEW’s exclusive pay-per-view streaming provider (and Warner likely gets a cut of AEW’s linear PPV business as well).

Too much success is a good problem to have, and TV business folks tend to find ways to reward the producers of valuable properties. Setting aside a few Saturday nights for Clash of the Champions style specials at a higher rate is the type of thing Warner could do to keep Tony & company feeling good about the deal.

These are heady times for AEW. Two years ago they were a just a thought, one year ago they were little more than a plan. Today, they might be worth ten figures on the open market. It’s a long slog, but they are off to an unbelievable start.

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