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Looking at Impact’s TV status

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Throughout the decade and a half of its existence, the company that started as NWA-TNA and went through a variety of name changes saw its share of peaks and valleys. When it began in 2002 as an upstart weekly pay-per-view project under the direction of legendary promoter, Jerry Jarrett and his son Jeff Jarrett, the organization attempted to use the lineage of the recognizable NWA initials to attempt to garner an audience for a new product. The professional wrestling industry in the post-WCW era had over a year of strictly a WWF monopoly when the concept of a national NWA promotion was launched so there was definitely a demand for an alternative.

However, there were numerous hurdles that made the ambitious project a difficult task.

Mostly importantly, the distribution of a weekly pay-per-view event proved that it couldn’t be a successful long-term option in 2002. At the time, a WWE PPV broadcast had a price tag of $40 so in theory, a fan could watch four of the $10 NWA-TNA events a month for the same price as one of the monthly WWE shows. Again, in theory this was a logical concept. The problem was, unless fans already knew about this weekly schedule, it was very difficult for a new audience to discover the product. Most of the wrestling fans base simply didn’t know NWA-TNA existed, and if they did, they weren’t willing to pay to sample it. There wasn’t an effective way to market this new group to the already established fan base and thus, it almost immediately became a niche product.

Economically, this distribution system was a failed model because of the extensive costs of running a live broadcast every week on pay-per-view. Without a way to market the events for more exposure, it wasn’t realistic to expect the weekly buy rates to cover the cost of production. Don’t get me wrong, the X-Division, especially its early years, was a pioneering style that continues to have an influence on the industry today, but again, it was a niche market. And, make no mistake about it, a niche product can be profitable if it can be produced with the right budget, but NWA-TNA had major league expenses when they only generated minor league exposure. Perhaps, if the company had started today with the ability to utilize social media and streaming services, it might’ve been a different story. But, the point is, Jerry Jarrett looked to sell his share of the organization in 2003 after the weekly PPVs didn’t get off the ground.

In late-2002, Dixie Carter received funding from Bob Carter’s Panda Energy company to purchase a majority share of NWA-TNA. As he detailed in his book, “The Best of Times,” Jerry Jarrett saw Dixie’s lack of wrestling knowledge and eventually left the company. After the Dixie takeover, TNA began to tape additional matches prior to live broadcasts that were used for “Xpolosion,” a show that aired on some regional local access channels. Dixie knew enough to realize that TNA needed some type of cable TV exposure if the organization was going to build toward competition in the industry.

In June of 2004, two years after its launch, TNA “Impact” debuted on Fox Sports Net on Friday afternoons. The one-hour show wasn’t exactly in the best time slot, but it provided the viewing audience more access to the product. After a year on that network, the deal expired and the company produced web-based episodes of Impact while it searched for a new TV deal. It was definitely a time of uncertainty because at that point, the group began to produce traditional three-hour PPVs so they had to find a suitable platform to promote those events.

It was major progress for TNA when its show began on Spike TV, the network that previously broadcast Raw and the UFC, in October of 2005. The Saturday 11 PM time slot wasn’t prime time, but it gave the promotion the most exposure in its history. Reportedly, Spike TV also invested in the product, paying a portion of Sting’s hefty contract when he signed with the company in 2006.

As an entity, the argument could be made that TNA had its best chance to elevate itself as legitimate competition within the 2006-2008 time frame with names like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Abyss, Kurt Angle, Sting, Christian, Rhino, and others on the roster. During the majority of its run on Spike, Impact averaged a million viewers on a weekly basis. The numerous reasons and booking debacles about why it didn’t happen is another article for another time. Hulk Hogan’s involvement in 2010 that used Dixie Carter as a major money mark and how it drained the financial resources from the company that led it to the brink of collapse is also another article for another time.

The point being, TNA remained on Spike TV for nine years until it was cancelled in December 2014. Reportedly, Dixie lied to Spike executives and claimed that Vince Russo wasn’t involved in the television show. Russo accidentally sent an e-mail intended for announcer Mike Tenay with production notes to PWInsider’s Mike Johnson, who reported the story. When Spike officials found out Dixie lied about the writing of Impact, they decided to cancel the show, which had declined in the ratings.

Without a network, Dixie Carter’s league landed on the sparsely watched Destination America channel in 2015. After Impact had the lead-in of UFC programming during its original run on Spike, shows like Major League Bass Fishing accompanied Impact on Destination America. It wasn’t a wrestling channel and it proved to be a very lackluster combination. TNA’s deal wasn’t renewed after the one-year contract expired.

The following year, Impact found its way to Pop TV, which eventually put the foundation in place for the Anthem Sports purchase that rescued the company when it almost shut down. When Anthem started to run the company early this year with Executive VPs Don Callis and Scott D’Amore, the show was still scheduled for its usual time slot of Thursdays at 8 PM each week. At the start of the year, the program generated roughly 300,000 viewers weekly, a drastic decline from the Spike TV era with much more TV clearance, but still an improvement from Destination America in 2015. However, there was a noticeable decline in numbers over the past few months, more specifically since the start of football season with Thursday night games. Recently, Impact has garnered under 200,000 viewers for some episodes.

Last week, Impact announced that the TV show will move to 10 PM on Thursdays, but what does this translate to for the company?

It mostly depends on if this is just a move to avoid some of the competition from football or if it’s a way for Pop TV to minimize Impact before they cancel the show. Although, it would be odd for the network to move the show for just a few months until the conclusion of the NFL season, but at the same time, what’s the goal of a show that airs until midnight? Granted, this isn’t certain doom for the organization, and Impact survived rocky situations before, but the late-night time slot doesn’t help Impact establish itself.

It’s possible that Anthem and Pop TV would be content with a niche audience, which is fine. Keep in mind, the bottom line in business is profitability so if Anthem finds a way to profit with Impact Wrestling that airs at 10 PM than it’s a successful project. NWA-TNA couldn’t find a profitable niche, but if Anthem does then it’s a smart business move. It remains to be seen what effect this late-night time slot will have of the status of Impact, but it doesn’t necessarily hinder the company.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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