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NBC, USA Network grab “WWE SmackDown!” rights from Fox

Comcast’s television entertainment division NBC Universal has clinched the rights to WWE’s Friday wrestling show “WWE SmackDown!” from Fox Corporation.

Starting in late 2024, the show will move to Comcast-owned USA Network, which also broadcasts the WWE’s flagship weekly program “Raw.”

It will be the second time USA Network has aired SmackDown since the program launched in the late 1990s. For much of its existence, SmackDown has been distributed on free broadcast television — first at UPN Network, and later at the CW Network, Fox-owned MyNetwork and most recently at Fox itself.

Fox secured multi-year rights to SmackDown in 2019, moving the program from USA Network to its prime-time schedule on Friday evenings. Fox has occasionally pre-empted SmackDown for live sports and other programming during its run at the network, with episodes sometimes screened on its cable sports network, Fox Sports 1.

Bringing SmackDown to USA Network solidifies Comcast and NBC as the main distributors of WWE programming in the United States. The media giant already has deals in place to stream past episodes of Raw and SmackDown on its premium service, Peacock, which also offers a robust back catalog of WWE shows and pay-per-view events.

Terms of the deal involving SmackDown were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday that the deal was valued at around $1.4 billion, citing people familiar with the matter. The Journal said the figure represented a 40 percent premium over what Fox was willing to pay to continue offering the show.

“Even at a moment when content spending has never been more scrutinized in the industry, premium properties like WWE with a massive following and huge engagement will always win out,” Mark Shapiro, the president of WWE’s parent company TKO Group, said in an interview with the newspaper.

Both Raw and SmackDown dominated the world of sports entertainment with its brash brand of edgy stories that centered around the world of professional wrestling. As new competitors have come online and audiences shift their attention from cable to streaming, the WWE’s audience has decreased over time. But SmackDown still pulled in around 2 million viewers on an average week, and ratings have improved since bringing back veteran wrestlers like Kurt Angle, John Cena and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

In addition to screening “SmackDown” on USA Network, the WWE will produce four prime-time specials for NBC, starting next year.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).