Netflix has agreed to a $5 billion deal to screen World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship Raw program over the next decade, in the group’s biggest foray so far into streaming live events.
The streaming service is betting that screening three live programs a week will allow it to capture the large and loyal fan base for a show that helped launch the careers of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
The deal, which starts in January 2025, will significantly expand Netflix’s use of the technology that is required to broadcast live sporting events.
The WWE’s decision to abandon USA Network, where it is the top-rated program, also reflects the economic pressures on traditional cable television operators as more consumers shift to streaming.
The agreement “dramatically expands the reach of WWE and brings weekly live appointment viewing to Netflix,” said Mark Shapiro, president and chief operating officer of WWE owner TKO. “This deal is transformative,” he added. TKO is controlled by Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor group.
Under the deal, Netflix will also have the right to stream all WWE programs outside the US, including SmackDown and WrestleMania.
Netflix executives have long played down any interest in pursuing live sports deals even as rival streaming services from Apple and Amazon have started to screen professional sports in an effort to attract subscribers.
At an investment conference in December, Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos said the company had found a niche in “sports adjacent drama,” such as its documentaries on Formula One, tennis, and a recent series on former England footballer David Beckham.
“Where we can really differentiate and outcompete everybody is in the storytelling of sports, the drama of sports,” he said.
Netflix has been working to improve its ability to livestream, which could allow it to show a broader range of programming, from live news and awards ceremonies to stand-up comedy as well as sports.
Last year, the company began experimenting with a special by the comedian Chris Rock, and it intends to stream a live exhibition tennis match between Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz in March.
Shapiro said he was confident that any technical challenges with livestreaming would be smoothed out by the time the agreement took effect next January. “We’ve got an entire year to make sure we’ve got it right.”
The companies are also likely to develop documentaries based on WWE to help widen its appeal, Shapiro said.
“They’ve [Netflix] made a real following out of the documentaries they do on various sports,” he told the Financial Times. “You can expect that over the course of this deal we will look to do a documentary on the characters and superstars of WWE.”
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