Hulu subscribers who are big fans of the WWE can breathe a sigh of relief today. The wrestling and entertainment company announced in its third quarter earnings call that it has signed a short-term extension with Hulu which will keep its content in place there until at least 2023.
Hulu and the WWE will be due to potentially negotiate a longer term deal when the short-term extension expires next year. In the meantime, the extended deal will include a new Hulu-exclusive series starring Bianca Belair and Montez Ford, which will run for eight episodes.
The deal covers the rights to next-day streams of “Monday Night Raw,” which lapsed for Hulu at the end of September. The expiration of the deal left many fans guessing as to when the episodes would leave Hulu. The streamer compounded this confusion by telling customers the episodes would leave on a certain date, but leaving them in place when the date had passed.
Frank Riddick, President and CFO of the WWE, noted that the shorter deal with Hulu was designed to help his company better align its negotiation windows.
“In our discussions with Hulu about extending the relationship, we expressed our desire to align the timing of the rights and windows for our content so as to best position WWE for the upcoming renewal discussions in 2023,” Riddick said.
That could mean that WWE signed a shorter term deal so it could re-negotiate the rights for “Raw” and “Friday Night Smackdown” at the same time. Hulu’s deal to re-air episodes of “Smackdown” runs through September of 2024, so there’s a good chance the companies may decide to re-up the deals for both shows when they sit down again next year.
The news is likely disappointing to executives at NBCUniversal, and its parent company Comcast. Comcast and Disney have been sparring publicly over Disney’s contractual obligation to buy the remaining 33% of Hulu that Comcast owns. Comcast has pulled many of its shows off Hulu to migrate them to its own streamer, Peacock, and would likely have jumped at the chance to pick up the streaming rights to “Raw.” The show already airs live on Comcast’s USA Network. Peacock is already home to lots of WWE programming, including WrestleMania.
It looks as if Comcast might be waiting a while longer if its goal was to bring all the rights to “Raw” under one umbrella. The tenor of the discussion surrounding Hulu from WWE executives made it sound as if they were satisfied with the relationship. Having the live and streaming rights split the way they are is working for the company, and as co-CEO Nick Khan said, “I’m not sure that that’s going to change.”
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