In a groundbreaking move, Netflix has inked a multibillion-dollar, 10-year agreement for exclusive rights to WWE’s flagship weekly wrestling show, “Raw.” The deal, set to commence in January of the upcoming year, extends beyond just the iconic wrestling program, as Netflix gains rights to stream WWE’s other shows and specials internationally. The collaboration comes at a hefty price tag of over $5 billion, with an option for an additional 10-year extension or an opt-out clause after five years, according to a regulatory filing from TKO Group, WWE’s parent company.
The announcement coincided with Netflix’s record-breaking fourth-quarter earnings, reporting a staggering 13.1 million new subscriptions and reaching a total of 260 million subscribers worldwide. Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Bela Bajaria, emphasized the synergy between the streaming giant’s reach, recommendations, and fandom with WWE, expressing the intention to deliver more joy and value to both audiences and members.
Netflix’s co-CEO, Ted Sarandos, reiterated the company’s commitment to expanding its live entertainment programming during the fourth-quarter earnings call. While he acknowledged WWE as sports entertainment aligning with Netflix’s sports business focus, Sarandos clarified that the move should be viewed as part of Netflix’s annual $17 billion content budget and not a shift in strategy.
The deal significantly diversifies Netflix’s live programming, which previously included challenges with technical difficulties during live episodes like “Love Is Blind.” Sarandos emphasized the importance of live events, citing the success of a live Chris Rock comedy special and Netflix’s upcoming live streaming of the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Netflix’s recent emphasis on sports documentaries over live sports has been altered by the WWE deal. The move positions Netflix in direct competition with rivals such as Peacock, Amazon Prime, and Apple, all actively investing in live sports content. Analysts note that as the streaming business matures in the United States, more such deals are likely to reshape content budget allocations for streaming companies.
The WWE partnership marks a strategic shift for Netflix, which had previously resisted live sports content. Forrester analyst Mike Proulx highlighted the company’s evolving approach, drawing parallels to its unexpected foray into advertising last year. Proulx suggests that Netflix’s newfound interest in live sports aligns with a broader strategy to attract big brands and allocate advertising budgets to its growing audience.
As media rights continue to be attractive to streaming companies, the WWE deal is anticipated to influence future content budget allocations for live sports. The wrestling show “Raw,” known for launching the careers of wrestling legends, has been a mainstay on linear television since 1993, drawing a substantial audience on the USA Network.
In a separate statement, TKO Group announced that Hollywood power broker Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor, which controls TKO, has appointed Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson to join its board. The market responded positively to the news, with TKO’s shares experiencing a 16 percent jump, while Netflix’s shares saw a slight increase. The WWE deal signals Netflix’s strategic intent to dominate the global streaming landscape by securing exclusive and diverse content offerings, setting the stage for a new era of entertainment for its millions of subscribers.