Big news from WWE, via an exclusive report in Variety... SmackDown will move to Tuesdays on July 19, and begin airing live each week from 8PM - 10PM on USA Network.
In the midst of the usual industry talk about live programming being the only way television networks can combat DVRs and cord-cutters, the Variety article also answers a couple of fan questions (and probably a wish list item) when it reveals the move is to accomodate a growing roster and will include a return of the brand split:
The debut of a live SmackDown comes as two of the WWE's biggest attractions, John Cena and Seth Rollins, are returning to competition from injuries. And the company is expected to create strong points of differentiation between SmackDown and USA's other live program, Monday Night Raw, according to the WWE. A draft will be held before the SmackDown launch date to determine which wrestlers on the company's talent roster will be assigned to which program. Each show is expected to feature separate cast, plots and writing teams.
There is a quote from Vince McMahon:
WWE's flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV. This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world.
But it's the usual soundbite and not answers to questions the news will raise for fans like if this means a return to two World titles, if one show will feature women exclusively, etc.
Start speculating on those questions, Cagesiders.
The announcement does add some strength to WWE's frequent ratings argument - that numbers are down for everyone and there is still a premium on their content, even if viewership numbers will never reach the heights of the late 90s ever again.
Will the move pay off for USA's parent company, NBC Universal, and WWE? Time will tell.
But it's certainly an exciting time to be a wrestling fan.
UPDATE: Here's WWE's official press release...
SMACKDOWN GOING LIVE ON USA NETWORK BEGINNING
TUESDAY, JULY 19
NEW YORK and STAMFORD, CONN - May 25, 2016 -- USA Network, the exclusive cable home to WWE's marquee properties, announced that its weekly SMACKDOWN show will air live - for the first time ever - and move to Tuesdays every week beginning July 19 from 8-10PM ET/PT. With the SMACKDOWN move, USA Network will now offer five hours of live WWE programming a week, including the weekly three-hour live WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW (airing Mondays from 8-11PM ET/PT), with each show featuring a distinct cast, unique storylines and a dedicated writing team.
-- SMACKDOWN to Feature Distinct Roster and Storylines --
In 2016 to date, MONDAY NIGHT RAW is averaging 4.011MM total viewers, 1.873MM P25-54 and 1.846MM P18-49 L7, and SMACKDOWN in its current time slot is averaging 2.674MM P2+, 1.136MM P25-54, and 1.058MM P18-49+ L7, making USA the #1 cable entertainment network across the key demos on Monday and Thursday nights. In 2015, the two programs combined reached over 50MM viewers. Both shows will now air live 52 weeks a year.
"The fan base for our WWE shows is one of the most passionate and engaged audiences in all of entertainment," said Chris McCumber, President, Entertainment Networks, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. "There is a huge appetite among our viewers for live programming, and the ability to move SMACKDOWN to a live format brings a new level of excitement and helps truly eventize this every week."
"WWE's flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV," said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon. "This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world."
With 874 original episodes, SMACKDOWN is the second longest-running weekly episodic program in U.S. television history, only behind MONDAY NIGHT RAW at 1,200 episodes.