Netflix has flirted with live sports for a while now, but it just officially committed to making live sports a major part of its core offering.
In a deal announced today, TKO Group Holdings will bring its iconic “WWE Raw” program to the popular streaming service (h/t CNBC). The popular live wrestling TV show will be on Netflix for 10 years starting in 2025, in a deal reportedly valued at five billion dollars (that’s billion — with a “b”!)
That’s not all Netflix is getting out of this genuinely historic deal. In addition to getting the domestic streaming rights to “Raw,” as well as the broadcast rights for the TV show in Canada, the U.K. and Latin America, it’s also going to be the international home for all other WWE wrestling programs. That means Netflix will be the home of “SmackDown,” “NXT,” “WrestleMania,” “SummerSlam” and “Royal Rumble” outside of the U.S.
WWE lays the smack down by bringing ‘Raw’ to Netflix
Obviously this is a big win for WWE, which now becomes one of the largest sports leagues (for lack of a better term) in the streaming world. By attaching itself to Netflix, it could arguably be the biggest live sports property exclusive to streaming. While other streaming services have deals with leagues from the NFL to the English Premier League, none of those streaming services have the prominence of Netflix.
That also makes this a big win for Netflix — and possibly a mortal blow to some of its competitors.
Again, live sports isn’t new to streaming, though most developments in the genre have been recent. Max has the Bleacher Report add-on and Turner Sports, Paramount Plus has CBS Sports, Peacock has NBC Sports and Disney has an entire streaming service — ESPN Plus — devoted to sports. Apple TV Plus and Prime Video even have notable sports offerings between their deals with MLB and MLS in Apple’s case and the NFL and regional sports network Diamond Sports Group in Prime Videos’s case. In short, Netflix is relatively late to the game despite its “The Netflix Cup” golf tournament.
Now though? Now it has a premier live sports offering that is exclusive to its platform in the U.S. 17.5 million unique viewers per year watch “Raw” according to Netflix and the TKO Group. Some of those viewers likely already have a Netflix account, but that’s still likely millions of new subscribers for Netflix.
‘Raw’ will be a big experiment for fans and subscribers
Of course, it’s not just the companies that need to be considered here. The viewers matter too. On the one hand, if you already have Netflix, this is a win for you. No longer will many of you need the USA Network, or even cable for that matter. Well, as long as you’re okay with just watching “Raw” and not the other WWE offerings.
But if you have access to Netflix’s ad-supported tier, you will get a different experience than those that pay for premium tiers. According to sources, “Raw” will be scripted to satisfy ad-free customers, who will see continued action during commercial breaks. These scenes won’t be important to the outcome, and will be along the lines of “a wrestler in a sustained headlock.” But that does mean that not all consumers will get the same show, which is a major shift for WWE, and Netflix.
Still, this indicates that Netflix won’t be charging more for access to “Raw.” So most likely, fans who already have Netflix will be largely happy with this new partnership.
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Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.
Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.