A chokeslam goes a long way on YouTube. It helped WWE gain 8 billion views on the platform last year, which has in turn helped the WWE recruit new subscribers to its streaming network.
Since launching on YouTube in 2008, World Wrestling Entertainment has become one of the most prolific media brands on the video platform. It just crossed 10 million subscribers — a milestone matched only by “The Ellen Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in the TV industry. In January, the company’s flagship channel, WWE Fan Nation, did more than 575 million views, making it the top channel in YouTube’s (non-music) entertainment and sports verticals.
The large following is the result of a company-wide embrace of YouTube as a vital part of WWE’s content and distribution strategy: WWE uploads well over 300 videos to YouTube every month.
“Our fans are passionate. We want to deliver an experience that’s worthy of that,” said Jayar Donlan, WWE’s svp of digital and social content. “They are on YouTube, so we are on YouTube.”
While the company has four people dedicated solely to managing WWE’s YouTube presence, the platform itself touches all parts of the company, according to Donlan. The company’s TV arm, digital team and WWE Network arm are all involved in what content gets put up on YouTube.
WWE’s content strategy for YouTube involves pushing out a mix of repurposed TV content and original made-for-digital fare. It’s also a space for experimentation, a way for it to venture into new verticals that share its audience, such as gaming.
Most of the interest in WWE content is unsurprisingly tied to its TV programming. WWE takes advantage of that not only by pushing clips of big TV moments out on YouTube but also by creating exclusive segments just for digital. For instance, two weeks ago, the company uploaded a video of Brock Lesnar ambushing Dean Ambrose before its weekly Monday night “Raw” telecast. The minute-long clip did more than 1 million views within 24 hours, said Donlan.
Giving fans what they want is also the reasoning behind WWE’s gaming channel, UpUpDownDown, which has 390,000 subscribers, and original series like “Superstar Ink” and “5 Things,” which spotlight the company’s various personalities and long history.
But while YouTube is a key part of growing the WWE brand, the company is also using the platform to drive people to other, potentially more lucrative areas of its business — like its subscription streaming network. (WWE Network offers the company’s full library, including TV shows, pay-per-views, original series and even classic programming.)
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Launched two years ago, WWE Network ended 2015 with 1.2 million subscribers, the company said in its year-end earnings report. That was a 72 percent increase from the previous year and helped grow revenue from the segment by 60 percent.
“It’s a very respectable number,” said Bernard Gershon, president of GershonMedia. “We’re in the golden age of niche subscription OTT networks. The winners are going to be the people who have a brand, or at least can invent and grow a brand, and drive traffic to the platform.”
YouTube is a proven tool for companies that want to drive people to sign up and pay for a subscription streaming platform, according to Rich Raddon, co-CEO of Zefr, which has worked with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon on YouTube customer-acquisition campaigns. “YouTube is the best fishing pole in the world,” he said. “The audience is vast; they’re all watching and engaging with video — they’re qualified customers already.”
Right now, WWE is pointing its YouTube audience to the streaming network by including links with the promise of “more action” beneath each video. In some cases, the company will also feature an end-slate with a link. Donlan said WWE has been successful in driving people from YouTube to WWE Network but declined to specify exact numbers.
“YouTube helps us get closer to [potential] subscribers and bring them into our world, which we can use to eventually bring them back to TV or the streaming network — it’s a content ecosystem that feeds itself,” said Donlan. “That’s where the real value is.”
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