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WWE's future is in social media and impressions, not television and ratings

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The trend for WWE these days increasingly toward social media and online platforms. They've made the shift most demonstrably in starting their own over-the-top streaming service as they moved away from the pay-per-view (PPV) model, but it's evident in all areas of their business.

They're setting new peaks in YouTube subscribers at the same time it takes the biggest box office star in the world to get back to a television viewership size which used to be their average.

Vince McMahon started to re-frame a ratings question during the company's last round of financial results by pointing toward social media success, and if his interview with the Orlando Sentinel (the whole piece is full of interesting quotes from the chairman - read the whole thing here) is any indication, that's something the Chairman will be pushing more and more in the future.

In talking about WrestleMania 33's home of Orlando, a town which boasts a couple of recognizable brands in Disney and Universal as residents, McMahon said WWE is the biggest - and he used YouTube as the measuring stick:

When you think about family-friendly events and attractions, here in Orlando there's no brand that fits that better than we do on a global basis. Maybe some of the brands are here in America but in Orlando, ours dwarfs all of that in terms of everything with YouTube. We had eight billion views last year on YouTube alone and a lot of that is international.

That's important, because as they did with WWE Network, Vince and company are staking their claim to the digital frontier. They're betting so heavily on it, that he's not afraid to openly speculate about a future where we consume Raw and SmackDown in clips and Tweets more than by sitting down for a two or three hour program:

Again, just that stat alone and social media one day might be our primary vehicle for Raw and SmackDown as we know it. Now, in terms of distribution, it's growing so fast, it's a land grab. We have our share of the land, maybe a little more than some people would like. But we'll continue to grab that land. You have to do that. The amount of impressions that we do make every day, and [we will] make even more by the time we come back here, is really hard for someone to really wrap their arms around.

Which is not say NBC and other content distributors that we currently think of as television channels won't be key partners for WWE moving forward. Every entertainment and media entity is in the process of adapting to the new tools for consuming their product and how those tools are changing the audience.

Raw will always have value as live content, but the next round of television negotiations will likely look very different for WWE. How much value it has when a growing percentage if its audience watches it a day later in five minute chunks will depend on how McMahon and his team package that audience for advertisers.

At least the man in charge is aware of the shift and planning ahead. Especially since he plans to be running the show for the foreseeable future:

I'm not good at all at looking back. I'm not good at that at all. I just don't do that. It's what's tomorrow, what's next year. How am I going to leave this to the next generation, although I don't plan to die. It may take a while for that.

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