Our long national nightmare may finally be over. Ratings talk is on the run and may be over for good. Finally! What went from a weekly observation in 1996 to a justification for half baked takes in the 2000s to a toxic point scoring tool on Wednesday nights in 2020 may finally have breathed its last breath. Now I last opined on the stupidity of ratings talk here in this piece Ratings? What ratings? , and now I am happy to say that unless all the wrestling websites out there decide to make one simple budgetary decision that this may be the last time I ever write about them here. There is nothing that displays the sheer bankruptcy of many of the outlets that cover pro wrestling than this admission:
Now understand that Dave Meltzer is lamenting the fact that Showbuzz Daily’s apparent demise means he cannot look up this information for free, and will have to pay Neilsen for it if he wants to get it directly. The same goes all for the other outlets that have devoted a lot of time and space for ratings talk, by the way. Showbuzz Daily has been a one stop shop not just for wrestling sites but all the other places that talk about TV ratings, and saved them a Neilsen subscription fee.
But unlike Variety and other entertainment sites, wrestling media has made ratings talk a cornerstone of their very existence. As Meltzer said it’s a huge blow to the business…of course he actually meant his business, not the wrestling business because the wrestling companies do the thing that he apparently doesn’t want to do, a very simple thing called….paying for the Neilsen service. That’s right, it looks like he and several of his contemporaries are looking at losing a good chunk of their content because they simply don’t want to pay for the information. Which is ironic seeing as how he charges $12 a month for access to his ‘reporting’.
If you follow me on Twitter or have listened to me on a podcast you would know just how much I hate ratings talk. Now I do love numbers and talking about numbers but ratings number talk has been some of the most toxic and disingenuous stuff out there. Cherry picking numbers to fit a narrative. Ignoring the full context from how everyone else did that week. Moving the goalposts from demos to average viewers for the whole show to viewers per hour to breaking down each quarter hour. Disregarding other circumstances like playoff games, election coverage, etc. And using any or all of those false pretenses to make a judgment on the quality of one show or another and whether they’re doing it right. And that work eventually migrated from the dirtsheets to the fans and have only made the environment worse.
I mean seriously, we had an internet driven Wednesday Night War that was more like a pillow fight where people without a trace of irony treated a 100,000 person difference in viewership like it was Nitro doubling up Raw back in 1997, and some of those people wanting AEW to move Dynamite to Mondays to see if they could ‘take down’ RAW the way Nitro supposedly almost did. And by take down they mean draw a better TV rating, of course. Even if that happened how does that help anyone, exactly? There’s no magic that will lead to the 7 to 10 million (probably more like 7 million total once you shave off the channel flippers) people that watched RAW and Nitro combined from 1997 to 2001, or to even get any one show to the 5 to 6 million both shows peaked at. It’s over, kaput, done.
But those numbers themselves are part of the problem. Those numbers represented people who watched the shows live on Monday night in an Era when that was the only option outside of recording it live and watching later. Now we’re in an era where my kids don’t watch regular TV at all, and even I don’t watch everything live myself. People also don’t buy physical copies of music like they used to either. Thanks to Stephen at Wrestling News World for this, but Taylor Swift sold 1.2 million records last year whereas in 1999 N’Sync sold 10 million. Taylor Swift is not in the mud, to borrow a cliche overused by wrestling fans, despite selling barely over 10 percent of what the top act did in 1999.
You want a more one to one correlation? Law and Order SVU debuted in 1999, right during the peak of the rating for RAW. It got 15 million viewers per episode that season. Now in it’s most recent completed season (2019-2020) it drew 3.69 million viewers. The last current episode we have free and easy numbers for drew 4.3 million, and that’s after reuniting the beloved Benson and Stabler duo in what would be called a stunt in the wrestling world. The last new episode before that had 3.67 million viewers, which is in line with the previous season. That’s a drop of over 75 percent over the same time that RAW went from like 5.5 million to just under 2 million on average, roughly a 70 percent drop. Perfectly reasonable when you look at it that way.
And if that’s not good enough for you then consider the fact that the major networks are one by one dropping live viewership as a metric they even want to look at anymore. Fox and NBC have dropped it, ABC will probably follow soon. CBS will hold out because they’ve always courted older viewers who still watch regular TV. But using live viewership numbers as a measure of success is going the way of the Buffalo, as the late John Thompson used to say.
And they should have never been used to measure show quality. Fear Factor, where people ate bugs and did other disgusting things, was once a highly rated show. Reality TV with its worked fights and contrived beefs and played up stereotypes still scores. Badly played NFL games still rule the day on Sunday and aren’t distinguishable numbers wise from well played ones. One has nothing to do with the other. The rating has nothing to do with whether or not a show was any good that week. A rise of fall of 200,000 live viewers week to week is not a commentary on Roman Reigns or Drew McIntyre or anyone else.
So while I know it’s going to be tough for a lot of you to finally kick the ratings talk narcotic, it’s time to do so. Along with it’s equally evil siblings album sales and movie box offices, they have only made for a worse fan environment and experience and do absolutely nothing to make it better. And it’s not like anyone was paying you to tweet about it in all caps anyway. If you’re going to wallow in misery at least get something to show for it. And with that…..please click on the link when I send this out so I can get some good numbers, will ya? 😀