When AEW Dynamite arrived this past October and finally brought back the air of competition in mainstream American pro wrestling, it also brought back the tribalism of yesteryear, and the talk of ratings that inevitably comes with it. A big part of that discussion is the idea of the key demo, and how it’s more substantial than overall viewers. It’s a debate that’s not likely to end any time soon, but I figure that since I’m a simple man myself, I can perhaps explain this in the simplest possible terms.
Before anything else, it should be noted that for these two American companies, it’s largely American TV that we’re discussing. International viewership is certainly key for expansion, but for both WWE and AEW, their baseline is in their home country. Moreover, their profits depend almost entirely on their American TV deals. That’s why American ratings are the bulk of the discussion. I mention this because part of the confusion that can arise is that the demo talk is, seemingly, not as big a discussion in other countries.
This is likely because America, more than most, is a country driven by capitalism and therefore, commercialism. I can remember seeing people from other countries watching American feeds of shows and being baffled by how long the commercial breaks were. They came from countries that either barely had any adverts by comparison, or just straight up never had to deal with commercials period. But indeed for American television, commercials are a key part of survival.
It’s how any station makes it’s money, the advertisers pay for that time.
Because of this, if you’re running a network, it’s very important that you present a product that is beneficial to advertisers. And you may think that this simply means having as many viewers as possible to watch these adverts. But that’s not really true. And I apologize in advance for this next part because it can be hard to explain this without sounding cruel. I’ll try my best.
But if you’re watching enough TV to see a good deal of commercials, or even if you’re just seeing a lot of ads on YouTube or other sites, you should perhaps ask yourself:
How many older looking people do you see in these adverts?
Odds are good that, unless it’s a product specifically aimed at older people, you’re going to be seeing teens or young adults in any given ad. Even if it’s something that applies just as much to older people like a car or an insurance company, this remains the case. This is because advertisers generally want their products to be associated with youth. They want to be seen as cool. Modern. Maybe they also believe in the mantra that if you get someone hooked at a young age, you’ll have a fan for life.
There’s a trickle down effect as well, where what 20-somethings see as cool influences teens, who in turn influence kids. And these younger people are often going to be ignoring – or outright rebelling against – what older folks like. So to that end, not only do advertisers want to specifically appeal to younger people, but they might even see an association with older people as a direct roadblock to this. If their product is seen as a thing that 50 year olds are into, that alone can be a turnoff for people younger than them.
I’m not here to tell you these stigmas should exist, but they definitely do exist, atleast in the minds of those who make the decisions.
So, yes, age groups matter to advertisers and they’re going to want to skew as young as they can in most cases. You can argue whether they’re correct to think this way or not, but I must stress that ISN’T the discussion here. The point is, they DO think this way.
And since this matters to advertisers, it also matters to the networks they’re advertising on, because they will be paid more if they can provide their advertisers with younger audiences.
And since this matters to the networks, it therefore should matter to every show on those networks. Because the cycle continues with networks paying big money to shows that can draw a younger audience.
So that’s why, when comparing the value of two different shows, it is in fact entirely fair to be looking primarily at the younger demos.
That’s what the networks are looking at, and so it’s the most important thing to any show’s future. WWE are not being paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year by USA and FOX for the 2.5-ish million viewers they were averaging at the time but because of the younger demos that wrestling appeals to. Dynamite didn’t get it’s sudden extension from TNT for the 800,000 or so average it had either. If all those numbers were comprised entirely of 50+, let’s just say wrestling’s future wouldn’t be near as secure as it is right now.
And it can’t be stressed enough that both promotions rely heavily on these figures to not only grow, but in AEW’s case, to survive. Even though AEW was actually doing very well in attendance back when crowds were around, and even though they’re still doing very well in PPV buys, as things are right now, they simply can’t run at a major league level in America without a major league TV deal. WWE is pulling in record profits despite being at near all-time low levels of popularity because their TV deal is carrying them.
That’s why, when you see WWE’s big decline in younger viewers and AEW’s slow rise in younger viewers, to the point where Dynamite is now outdrawing Raw some weeks, it’s big news. Because if both trends persist, and there’s no major reason to think they won’t, then what we’re left with is AEW being the more valuable product from a TV network’s point of view. And if this remains the case when TV renewals for both come up in a few years, well…
It’s not crazy to foresee a future where AEW ends up with a better TV deal than WWE, or atleast a comparable one.
Keep in mind, Tony Khan was able to land a prime time deal on TNT before they had been proven on any level of television.
It should go without saying that this would make for a massive shift in the landscape that nobody saw coming. And the fact that it only took ten months for us to get here makes it all the more mind-blowing. So the next time you see someone claiming a demo win as more important than overall viewers, now you know why.
It’s because it may be the prelude to what, in a few years, might just be the biggest story in pro wrestling history.