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WBD exec touts AEW’s ‘huge numbers’, talks partnering on ‘new content that’s not in a wrestling ring’

TBS’s AEW Dynamite Los Angeles Debut After Party Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery

AEW’s television contract will be up in 2024.

Under normal circumstances, it would be a no-brainer for TBS & TNT to re-up for more AEW programming — and give Tony Khan’s company a nice financial bump in the process. The upstart wrestling federation proven it can routinely put its flagship show Dynamite at or near the top of the Wednesday night ratings, and their secondary Rampage program pulls better numbers than almost anything else could in a bad Friday night time slot. But the networks’ parent company Warner Bros. recently merged with Discovery, and the latter’s boss David Zaslav is running the cumbersomely named Warner Bros. Discovery & is a well-known penny pincher.

Zaslav & team are looking to cut costs wherever they can to impress Wall Street after paying $43 billion dollar to create the newest multimedia mega-corporation. It’s led to a lot anxiety about if AEW will get a new deal from WBD, and how much it will be worth if they do. But a Hollywood Reporter interview with Kathleen Finch, the company’s US Networks Group chair & chief content officer should allay some fears.

The piece is focused on WBD’s strategy for their linear cable networks, which include Discovery, HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, TLC, OWN, and of course TBS & TNT. Pro wrestling is only mentioned once, but Finch praised AEW’s performance. She also talked about how Tony Khan’s promotion fits into their overall plan of hooking male viewers with sports, then keeping them around with cheaper-to-produce reality-type programming:

“One of the things that we’re doing around sports is creating shoulder programming to hold onto those fans. AEW pulls huge numbers, so we are working with the wrestling team to figure out what new kind of content can we build that’s not in a wrestling ring.”

There’s no specific mention of what “content that’s not in a wrestling ring” means. But WBD seemed happy with Cody & Brandi Rhodes reality show Rhodes To The Top, with rumors claiming they tried to encourage Cody to stay with AEW rather than go to WWE, and have stayed in touch with Brandi. There was also talk of Swerve Strickland being a potential crossover star for AEW & WBD.

Finch & WBD US Networks Group chief marketing officer Karen Bronzo also discussed the importance of using popular stars on other programs and general brand synergy with The Hollywood Reporter. AEW wasn’t specifically mentioned, but the company’s history of working with NBA on TNT star Shaquille O’Neal, and incorporating other WBD properties like Shark Week and House of the Dragon into Dynamite & Rampage should serve them well in the coming negotiations.

Hand-wringing among wrestling fans and industry observers will likely continue until a new television contract is signed (and probably afterwards, if AEW doesn’t get a hefty increase in rights fees). But while there are things to be concerned about in Tony Khan’s company, having an unhappy U.S. TV partner doesn’t seem to be one of them.

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