Friday, 5 October 2012
A 2.5 Is No Reason To Panic By Duckman
One of my favourite songs by seminal 1980s Manchester band The Smiths is called Panic. The song contains the stand out lyric,
“Hang the blessed DJ, because the music that they constantly play, says nothing to me about my life.”
Panic perfectly summed up the frustration felt by many people when they tuned in to BBC Radio 1 in the UK during the 1980s. Those who did found themselves subjected to a barrage of cheesy DJs who played a corporately approved, highly inoffensive and downright boring selection of music. Panic was a rallying cry against all that was bland, stale and repetitive on Radio 1, music and DJs alike.
As the 80s became the 90s people became more disenfranchised with Radio 1. Eventually a large percentage stopped listening and sought out other stations and DJs. It took a few years for the effects to be felt but with a constant downward spiral in their listener numbers, Radio 1 eventually caught up with what the general public were telling them. Namely that the music that they constantly played and those who played it, said nothing to them about their lives.
In the 1990s Radio 1 made a concerted effort to inject some youth and life into their broadcasts. The removed a lot of older DJs who had became caricatures of themselves and replaced them with younger DJs who were more in tune with what was popular to the youthful audience they were desperate to bring back to the station. They started to play more alternative styles of music and eventually the tide turned. A new, more popular era for Radio 1 began.
Granted, there’s still shitty DJs and shitty music on the radio in 2012. That’s just life. However the variety of music played, the styles the DJs work in and the different ways music can be accessed has changed greatly since the dark days of the 1980s. That change came about because those in charge of Radio 1 and other stations saw that people were turning away from their product. It took time, patience, long term planning and execution of that plan to bring the public back but eventually they did. While Radio 1 will never reach its 20 million listeners a day peak it’s in much better health than it was when Morrissey and Co penned their classic song.
The moral of the story is – don’t panic.
This week the flagship programme of WWE, Monday Night Raw, recorded its lowest non-holiday viewership rating in 15 years. I’ve long wondered if the rating system in America is still relevant today. People are no longer tied to watching a TV show at a set time, on a set day, in the ways they were fifteen years ago. What this low TV rating actually means in an age of DVR, internet viewing (both legal and illegal) and the plethora of outside factors that can lower a TV rating (NFL season starting, school going back, other TV shows, video games etc) is debatable.
What isn’t debatable is the fact that there will be panic on the streets of Stamford thanks to this rating. Over the last few years whenever the TV rating dips down low you can be sure a panic reaction from WWE will be hot on its heel. A hot shot angle is booked, the WWE or World Title changes hands, or an old star is brought back to try and bump the numbers back up. Unfortunately none of these panic reactions actually addresses the main failing of WWE and one of the main reasons why their TV ratings are sliding downwards – their lack of stars.
Before anyone bombards me with the names of their current favourite wrestlers just chill for a second. When I say ‘star,’ I’m talking about someone who can increase TV ratings, who can increase PPV buy rates, who the mainstream media are interested in. If you can name a current WWE wrestler other than John Cena or maybe Randy Orton who has done this since 2005 I’ll buy you a beer. CM Punk is popular but he’s not at the star level of a Cena. Hell, the whole current direction of his character is about exactly that.
It’s not hard to find the root causes of WWE’s current lack of stars problem. Over the last five or so years they have forgone planning and structure for chaos and reaction. The focus on what drives the WWE business model (creating new stars) has been sabotaged by what has become widely known as the ‘stop/start push.’ Countless young WWE wrestlers have been the victims of this counter productive practice.
They are pushed to a certain level by WWE and when there isn’t an instant return on that push (usually a couple of months but in some cases a couple of weeks) they are scaled back, usually ridiculed on TV for their perceived failings and returned to a level below that which they started out at. Their characters and their drawing power is hurt, oftentimes fatally.
The argument that WWE makes a healthy amount of money and therefore nothing is wrong is short sighted. Yes, WWE make a ton of money from licensing deals, merchandise, video games and other revenue streams not directly related to what happens in the ring. I’m not arguing that point. It’s creatively where WWE have been bankrupt in recent years. The past three or four Wrestlemania’s have relied extensively on bringing back stars of the past (or those on the verge of retirement) to prop up the buy rate. The lack of new stars in WWE is never more evident when Wrestlemania rolls around.
While WWE has a thin roster they don’t lack in talent. Their developmental system looks the strongest it has in years. In CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler, Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow they have a nucleus of wrestlers who could become stars if given the right push and the right amount of time.
WWE have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of them. They just don’t have the patience or the will to sit down and take the time to put the puzzle together correctly. Instead they try to force square pegs into round holes and when they don’t fit, they smash the puzzle to bits and go back to one they finished a few years ago and play with that instead. Or they recycle a well worn gimmick, put him in RVD’s tights, give him a catchy chant and we’re left with Ryback. And no one deserves that.
Then again maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the drop in ratings is because of something much more simple and that’s WWE adding an extra hour to Raw each week. There’s no argument that can be made to say the switch to three hours for Raw has been a success. If WWE judge their success purely on ratings (and we know they do) then the three hour editions of Raw have been an abject failure. I know as a viewer I struggle through three hours of Raw a week. Especially when that extra hour seems to be filled with video replays, social media whoring and throw away matches between the likes of Santino and Heath Slater.
I had high hopes that the extra hour of Raw would be used to give some of the lower card wrestlers a personality. Or invest in longer matches between wrestlers the fans actually want to see wrestle. Instead I watch the show and it’s painfully obvious that WWE are struggling to fill that extra hour. It shouldn’t be that way.
This is the perfect moment to use that extra hour on Raw correctly and start building some new characters for their fans to invest in. Give people something fresh and new and they might just stick around for the full 180 minutes each week. Show them the same format, the same people, the same go nowhere pushes and the same pointless matches but add another hour to that and watch them disappear over the horizon as quickly as you can say 2.5.
There doesn’t have to be panic on the streets of Stamford. It’s the last thing WWE needs. One bad rating isn’t the end of days. It doesn’t mean CM Punk can’t draw. Imagine what kind of a mess they’d be in without Punk to carry the show. Punk and Heyman are only getting started with their run and already they are the best thing on Raw. Hands down. With Cena hurt everything hangs off Punk and Heyman. Now is not the time to cut the legs out from under them or dramatically change the current creative direction. Things only work if you give them time. Stability and consistency should be the only buzz words going around WWE. Especially with Cena hurt because that actually could be a reason to panic.
When the franchise player goes down, everyone feels it. Cena being off the show this week certainly didn’t help the rating. There is no doubt that WWE have backed themselves into a corner over the last few years by relying so much on Cena. Call me morbid but every now and again I wonder what would happen if Cena was put out with a long term injury. Say his elbow injury this time around put him out for 6-8 months instead of 6-8 weeks. With WWE ignoring the need to have the next true superstar crop coming down the pipe, who is actually ready to step up and be the cash cow that WWE suckles from?
As you might remember, I started this talking about Radio 1 in the 1980’s. I think that was due in some part to some repressed memories of a Radio 1 Road Show involving Jimmy Savile and an industrial sized tin of KY jelly. Anyway, the point I was making was Radio 1 had to sack their old stars before they could get back on track and bring back lost fans, WWE don’t have that burden.
Just think about the major stars who are gone or don’t work full time anymore – HBK, Taker, HHH, Edge, Batista, Jericho. That’s some heavy duty firepower that WWE can’t rely on anymore. Add Cena to that list and factor in the extra hour of Raw each week and suddenly WWE’s roster is thinner than a cigarette paper.
The only thing that is consistent in WWE is inconsistency. You can’t effect long term change or even write a TV show without consistency. That’s what WWE needs. Not a panic reaction. Not a publicity grabbing stunt angle involving Vince. Not a fucking Ryback WWE Title reign. We all know it’ll happen one day, but just not now. Please.
It’s time to stop the inconsistent pushes. It’s time to pick the next generation and do what Vince and WWE have done for decades – give their talent a platform to become stars. I know that’s a simplistic view. I understand that there’s that ‘catching lightening in a bottle’ factor that is essential to creating a new wrestling star. All I’m asking for is WWE give them that chance, get behind them, present them as stars, make their wins and losses mean something. The rest is up to the wrestlers, I understand that.
Then again, there might be a boring NFL game on next week, Cena will be back on the show and the rating will creep back up to the safety of the 3.0. Panic over. Or it could be a very long time before WWE get to that magic number. Panic only just begun. Maybe a trade off could be worked. Vince drops the third hour, the fans give him back his three rating? We’d all be a lot happier I’m sure.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, I just know that when something starts trending downwards you can either panic or set in motion a long term plan to stop the rot. Which path WWE goes down on the back of this low rating is anyone’s guess, but if history has told us anything, it’s that a panic driven decision never ends well.
That’s a wrap for this time folks. Thanks for reading and remember if you want to shoot the shit with me on Twitter about wrestling or anything else you can find me @MFXDuckman. I can’t promise fortune and glory but I did make a Scotsman spit his coffee out with a joke about Taylor Swift recently. If that sounds like your idea of fun, hit me up on Twitter.
Then again if you’d rather hear me talking crap instead of writing it, don’t forget you can listen to me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence Wrestling podcast. We’re on a break at the moment as Ian’s on holiday but we’ll back in the next week or two with a new show. Check out www.mfxpodcast.com for previous shows to get you in the mood for our triumphant return.
I’m off to listen to The Smiths and pray to the wrestling Gods that Ryback is not the panic answer to all of Vince’s problems!
Until next time...