The Ratings Game

November 23, 2006

I read an interesting news post the other day about TNA officials being disappointed with the final ratings of their first 2-hour prime time special. I donít know whether TNA officials are actually disappointed or not, (believe it or not, not everything on the Internet is true) but I figured I could take a look at the ratings this show pulled and give you my take on what ratings really mean and when if ever TNA should expect a strong ratings improvement.

The 2-Hour TNA show pulled a 1.0 rating, which is up from their more standard 0.7 Ė 0.8 but certainly not a huge ratings jump or anywhere near the 3.8 or so RAW pulls each week. This was a huge show and TNA was obviously loading it up and pushing it hard in hopes of strong ratings. They advertised and promoted this show stronger than any they had in the past, it included a Barbwire Steel Cage match, an X-Division Title match, and the TNA in-ring debut of Kurt Angle. With all this going for it why did last weeks Impact only pull a 1.0?

In my opinion 1.0 should be viewed as a success. I donít know why so many people think ratings can be drastically changed over night. It takes a long time to swing ratings and jumping from a 0.7 to 1.0 is actually a strong gain. Wrestling fans like all television viewers are creatures of habit. Most people have a schedule that they run their life around and their television viewing habits rotate around that. I donít care how great the show is you put on if people arenít in the habit of being home and watching that particular show at that particular time it takes a lot to convince them to do so.

Iíll use myself for an example. When TNA started on Spike TV, it aired Saturday nights at 9 pm MST in Calgary. I had always wanted to watch TNA so I started watching it regularly at that time. I didnít have a regular show I watched Saturday nights and my kids went to bed at that time so I could catch the Saturday show easily. When they switched to the Thursday time slot (again at 9pm MST in Calgary) I started missing it almost every week. There were other things a generally did Thursday nights and with it being a weekday my kids went to bed earlier and my wife and I where already settled in doing other things when the show aired. TNA still aired in the Saturday time slot but I didnít even catch it then because it was usually Friday when I remembered I missed the show and then it was out of my mind and I missed it Saturday too. I was someone who knew about the show, liked the show, and I even missed it just because it didnít fit my planned regular schedule. I have just recently adjusted my schedule (thanks mostly to a Hard Drive recorder, which makes copying and watching it a bit later easier) enough to start catching Impact regularly again.

It doesnít matter if Impact is better than RAW because wrestling fans are accustom to sitting down and watching wrestling Monday nights at 9pm, and they for the most part know it and think it the big dog in the world of wrestling. Nothing will change this over night and TNA will have to be a far better show than RAW for a great number of months before they will be able to change fanís viewing habits. Even when WCW took over the ratings it was after several months of the Nitro product being hot and WCW was a far better established brand than TNA is and it also had the advantage of airing in the same time slot as RAW so they didnít have to change fans life style habits only the habit of which channel they tune into.

To illustrate this point another way lets look at fast food restaurants. WWE is McDonalds; everyone knows McDonalds and millions of people go there for lunch every single day. TNA is just a new burger joint that has not as yet established anywhere near the name value or recognition of McDonalds, they are TNA burgers so to speak. It doesnít matter how good their food is, they are not going to pull in as many lunch customers as McDonalds. Half the kids in the Country who want a burger for lunch just say, ďletís go to McDonaldsĒ just out of habit, and they drive to the same place everyday out of habit. TNA burgers is located in a different parking lot the other side of town and people are just not used to going there. Here is another point, and illustrates why I harp on TNA so much more than WWE for stupid mistakes. If you go to McDonalds and they get your order wrong or your fries are cold, you are upset, but you will likely still go to McDonalds again for lunch because you are in the habit of it and youíve had thousands of good experiences there before. If for some reason you end up at TNA burgers for the first time and they get your order wrong and your fries are cold you are far more apt to write the place off as a crappy place for lunch and go back to McDonalds again next week. Every mistake the new guy makes has 10 times the effect of a mistake made by the established giant.

One of the reasons WCW managed to compete and turn things in their favour (and remember Nitro was hot for several months before rating reflected it) was they were on the same night at the same time, and were already a fairly well established name brand. They were for the sake of our illustration Burger King and they shared the same parking lot as McDonalds. It was a lot easier for them to steal McDonalds customers, than it is for TNA burgers located 5 miles down the road.

Iím not saying it is impossible for TNA to compete with WWE and pull 3+ ratings but everyone needs to realize, it isnít going to happen over night. They are going to have to be CONSISTANTLY the better show for a long period of time. Acquiring people like Kurt Angle and Christian will help but they have to establish their own people, their own identity and be a FAR better product every single time out for a minimum of quite possibly a year or 2.

Last weeks impact was a step in the right direction but TNA has to continue to deliver strong, strong shows. Every great show is a small step forward; every bad show is a GIANT leap back.

Lance Storm