WWE took the first step towards airing content exclusively live on Facebook, by announcing the WWE Mixed Match Challenge.
WWE has announced a monumental step forward in their digital content creation, in a move that, if successful, could change the future of all WWE programming. The new weekly show, titled WWE Mixed Match Challenge, is a 12-week mixed tag team tournament that will air exclusively on Facebook Watch in the United States from January 16, 2018 at 10pm ET/7pm PT.
WWE Mixed Match Challenge will pit teams from Raw and SmackDown Live against each other, with the winning team securing $100,000 for the charity of their choice.
Almost all of the participants have already been announced, with the final participants for each team being confirmed on January 4 after a WWE fan vote on Facebook.
In a statement, WWE Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer, Michelle Wilson said:
As we continue to expand our strategic partnership with Facebook, this new series, Mixed Match Challenge, jointly reflects our innovative approach to content distribution and fan engagement. This show will deliver the action and excitement our passionate fan base is accustomed to while offering new production elements and social experiences that only Facebook can provide.
Each episode will be 20 minutes in length, and will feature a new approach to WWE production, with elements geared towards social interaction.
The competitors from Raw are Alexa Bliss, Alicia Fox, Asuka, Bayley, Braun Strowman, Enzo Amore, Finn Balor, Goldust, Nia Jax, The Miz and the WWE fan vote winner. The competitors from SmackDown are Becky Lynch, Bobby Roode, Carmella, Charlotte Flair, Jimmy Uso, Lana, Naomi, Natalya, Rusev, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura and the WWE fan vote winner.
Facebook expressed its own excitement with the announcement of this deal, as Head of Global Sports Partnerships, Dan Reed said:
As a leader in entertainment innovation, WWE is an ideal partner to demonstrate how the live sports viewing experience can be reimagined on Facebook. Mixed Match Challenge is a new competition produced specifically to take advantage of the reach, interaction and ongoing engagement enabled by our platform. Fans will be able to directly influence and interact with the in-ring action, follow the rivalries and storylines in between events, and connect with one another as the drama unfolds. We’re excited for the WWE community to come together on our platform to watch some of the biggest Raw and SmackDown Live Superstars and engage with WWE like never before.
It’s been rumoured for months that WWE was in talks with Facebook to bring weekly shows to the platform, with declining TV ratings and the vast increase of online media consumption and advertising, it has forced WWE to look for other areas in which to deliver content. Their deal with USA Network expires in 2019, just as it does with Sky in the UK and with declining ratings, it’s unclear if WWE will be able to command the same $140million rights fees it currently earns.
Facebook, on the other hand, has long been interested in television content and confirmed in September 2017 it has set aside billions of dollars to acquire the rights to live sports and video on their new Facebook Watch platform. In 2017, digital advertising spend overtook television advertising spend for the first time, reaching $200bn compared to the $175bn advertising spent for TV.
What does this mean for WWE? With ratings regularly slipping below 3million on USA Network for WWE Raw, advertisers will be less likely to invest in advertising dollars during WWE programming, because it means fewer eyes on their products. With WWE moving to Facebook, however, the potential for ratings is huge. Facebook is a worldwide platform, and while WWE is not there yet, if they were to make the switch in 2019 from USA Network to Facebook Watch, that 3 million number could find itself tiny in comparison to the number they could get by opening up RAW and SmackDown live on Facebook worldwide.
Facebook Watch is a brand new television platform available on PC, Mobile, and Smart Connected TVs via an app, much like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Roku. They already have existing deals with Major League Baseball and the NBA, announcing in early 2017 they will air at least one regular-season game per week on the platform. It’s also strongly rumoured that Facebook is intending to sensationally swoop in and bid for the rights to Barclays Premier League football matches in the UK when the rights expire in 2019, currently dominated by Sky, which also airs all of WWE’s weekly shows, and BT Sport. Coincidentally, WWE’s rights with Sky and USA Network also expire in 2019. 
CNet estimates that if successful, a deal with WWE & Facebook could be worth up to $400million, which would indicate that WWE would not hesitate to move their content to the online platform. 
Is WWE Mixed Match Challenge the future? Only time will tell.