Breaking Down (As Best We Can) What NXT’s Debut Ratings Actually Mean

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The September 18 debut episode of WWE NXT on the USA Network was watched by 1,179,000 viewers, coming in fourth place on cable television Wednesday night with adults 18-49.

There are a lot of factors to consider in trying to determine the significance of that number, and there will be even more factors in two weeks when AEW Dynamite debuts head-to-head on TNT. The other big thing is that in two weeks USA will be running both hours, instead of just one.

For now, as far as the network is concerned, the key is that the debut of WWE NXT did better than any episode of Suits in its final season so far – the show that it is replacing on Wednesday nights after next week – and better than all but three episodes of last season.

It’s nowhere near the 3-4 million per episode that Suits was drawing in its debut season back in 2011, but that’s generally how the TV biz works outside of live sports, unless it’s a major pop culture sensation like Game of Thrones, or something that takes off late like a Breaking Bad.

But that does beg the question – does week one’s WWE NXT numbers indicate the norm, will they grow against competition when AEW launches in two weeks, or is this just a series premiere number that’s going to drop off next week? Can they make new fans or convert those watching Raw/Smackdown/AEW, or is it just the same people who were already watching NXT on the WWE Network just watching it on a different platform?

Breaking down the numbers further, NXT did a 0.43 rating in the target demographic, adults 18-49. As a basis of comparison, that’s 42.9% down in viewership and 31.7% down in ratings from Smackdown the night before. Those numbers really shouldn’t be compared as ratings heavily depend on what the TV industry is doing on that specific night, but it does help us look at the specific demographic differences between the two shows.

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NXT did a 0.27 with the younger demographic (18-34) which is more or less consistent with the overall rating. The older demographic (50+) did a 0.47 which is down in a big way more than 50% from what Smackdown did in the same group.

Men in the target demo drew slightly better, and women did slightly worse. Those are all basically in line with expectations – who would have guessed, millennial men like NXT – but again we’re comparing two different shows on two different nights, and we’ll be able to actually look into things in more detail next week when you can compare NXT against itself in the same timeslot.

The nice thing about wrestling, at least when it comes to the networks who carry wrestling programming, is that it tends to stay consistent longer than most TV programming, and there’s no off-season unlike the shows like American Horror Story that beat NXT in overall viewership this week.

So if NXT can hover around 1.2 million every week, it’s a win for USA. If they can somehow grow to be anywhere near the level that Smackdown was for the network, it’s a really big win for USA considering what they’re paying for the brand, and would put WWE in a great position to renegotiate when their current contract expires.

But the most important factor, at least in the immediate sense, is how AEW does on TNT. Whether the company wants to admit it or not, and even though everyone involved on an executive level will deny this, the timing says otherwise.

WWE has been promoting Smackdown going to FOX for more than a year, and yet with NXT it was rushed onto USA with barely a month of promotion, before they could even get both hours on television. That paints a very different picture.