AEW has had a rough week in viewership to say the least.
Dynamite total viewership fell to a level not seen in over a year on Wednesdays, even though it was an unusually low night all across cable television. After all, the show still finished #2 in the demo on cable. Cable television was bad all around; in fact, Dynamite's decline in week-over-week viewership in the 18-49 demo was much less than other cable TV offerings, with some shows seeing drops over 30%.
Rampage, which usually wins its time slot, was beaten by FOX's right-wing TV program The Ingraham Angle. Friday, too, had mediocre viewership across cable: the best performing show was the College World Series on ESPN and it only had an 0.24. The percentage decline looks worse than it actually is because of the small number, but the reality is Friday night was another terrible night for cable television.
There's an obvious reason why, of course: cord cutting. Cord cutting has only accelerated in recent years, with many of the top pay TV providers losing a combined 1 million subscribers since last year according to the latest figures available. This is probably only going to accelerate even further due to the increased cost of living as inflation remains high in the United States and in most of the developed world post-pandemic.
I would imagine that cord cutting has probably exploded in the past few weeks as inflation keeps creeping up. On the flip side, more people are traveling this summer as compared to last year. As someone that manages a bunch of e-commerce sites for my clients, all of them are seeing declines. It is just where the economy is at the moment when it comes to discretionary expenditures of time and money.
Fans are speculating and sounding the alarm as to the reasons why, but the reality is that little of it has to do with AEW itself. The shows, while chaotic, aren't exactly sending viewers packing. I've complained many times about Tony Khan not being a great TV writer and relying too much on talent to write their own feuds that he will somehow package into (in)coherent TV. But it is not to the point that it is going to turn off viewers in droves.
In other words, AEW fans and AEW itself should not be panicking. WWE partisans should not be ready to celebrate AEW's demise.
Two things, however, could be a cause of concern for AEW.
The first thing for their consideration—and I imagine they are already thinking about it—is the economics of cable television. AEW's viewership skews significantly younger than WWE's. Therefore, it is much more vulnerable to cord cutting and competition from live sports. The College World Series probably had a minor effect on Rampage. Nothing was going to beat the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday—which convincingly won the night on broadcast television.
AEW's viewership will increase next week—probably back to a healthy amount of over 800,000 total viewers and over 400,000 viewers in the demo. The company continues to average anywhere from 48 to 52% of its viewership being in 18-49, which is the best in the pro wrestling industry by far.
Don't be surprised, though, if Dynamite and Rampage along with WWE's Raw and NXT see even further erosion of 18-49 viewership as evidence of an escalation in cord cutting. Raw and NXT, for comparison's sake, will be somewhat insulated by their older skewing viewership.
The second thing would be whatever is going in DVR viewership. Delayed viewership, which counts anytime a program is viewed after the premiere night broadcast, has not been widely reported. Neither the Wrestler Observer Newsletter or Brandon Thurston's Wrestlenomics have been reporting DVR numbers. AEW typically sees increases of 20-35% when adding delayed viewers. If there's a precipitous drop there, then there may be something more going on.
One bad week does not necessarily indicate a trend. Every promotion has a terrible week of viewership, big and small. However, AEW should consider two things as careful insulation.
For one, it has to tighten up Dynamite. That is two hours of prime real estate when it comes to TV and the show is becoming a bit exhausting to watch considering how much the company tries to pack into a broadcast.
For two, the company has to do a better job with Rampage. Even though Khan did not intend for it to be the case, it has clearly become AEW's B-show. B-shows are not bad, but few things of consequence happen on Ramage and its 4 match format where there is a short women's match and a squash in the middle is not must-see TV.
Nevertheless, I don't think AEW has anything to worry about—at least for now.