WWE News: WWE Annual Shareholders Meeting highlights, Vince McMahon answers question on the WWE Network, new film strategy explained
The WWE held their annual shareholders meeting on April 27 and released a video of the meeting. The following are highlights.
-Jim Langham, the assistant general counsel, called the meeting to order. He introduced the directors, including Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon, as well as three members of the executive team: CFO George Barrios, President of WWE Studios and General Counsel Michael Luisi, and EVP of Talent Paul Levesque (a/k/a Triple H).
-Langham introduced several pieces of business, including electing the slate of directors, that were all approved.
-Langham introduced Vince McMahon, who opened his comments by saying there are two guarantees in this world, death and taxes. He said there was one more guarantee, that he would be standing before the stockholders next year with "dramatic different results in our operating income." He said he would let the executive team take the lead on breaking down everything and answering questions.
-Vince said that TV ratings and live event attendance were their chief business concerns. He pointed out that live events were the "soul" of their business because it was the "most expensive way to enjoy the product" due to the combination of tickets, parking, concessions, etc.
-Vince said live event attendance was up, as well as TV ratings. He said Raw is up three percent, while Smackdown is up 15 percent.
-Vince put over WWE's business as malleable and perfect for the digital and social media explosions.
-Vince said there are two things that did not look good, the studio and TV licensing. He promised there would be more on the studio from another member of the team, and said the TV licensing issues were by design.
-Vince said we would be hearing, in short order, announcements about the increase in TV licensing, and all the things they grow because of the way they use television. He promised an "explosion" in bottom line revenue very soon.
-Vince introduced CFO George Barrios, who outlined WWE's four strategic priorities: Expand production and distribution of new content, continue to invest and build the brand, accelerate international growth, and product innovation.
-Barrios said 2010 was the most profitable year for WWE in terms of EBITA, but they did not execute as well in 2011 and had a $40 million decline in EBITA. He pointed to the two items Vince noted as where those losses occurred, with $30 million of it coming from film impairment charges.
-Barrios said the rest of their revenue was up or flat across all other areas of business, including double digit growth in PPV business.
-Barrios plugged things the company has done in their strategic priorities. He pointed to Tough Enough as expanding content, and called it one of the most successful new reality shows, drawing three million viewers. He also pointed to the new YouTube shows, and promised new programming in the future based on their film library, including "Monday Night Wars," and "WWE Countdown."
-As to brand growth, he pointed to social media with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
-He said over 30 percent of their revenue comes from international areas and hyped the expansion of Raw and Smackdown overseas.
-As to product innovation he said they were the number two action figure seller in the world with the new line from Mattel (Rumblers) and hyped the new WWE '12 and WWE All-Stars video games.
-Barrios introduced WWE Studios president Michael Luisi, who talked about the new strategy for WWE Studios. Luisi said the old plan had been to produce family friendly PG movies in line with their core product, but going forward they would be introducing three new core strategies.
-There would be a new content strategy that would expand the productions to PG-13 and R, as well as new genres of action, crime, horror, sci-fi and thriller. He said the goal is to reach non-WWE fans who are watching these types of content.
-Luisi said they would be using franchises as the basis to produce new content with WWE talent, and purchase completed films not starring WWE talent.
-The new distribution strategy would see all releases partnered with a partner who will have a 50/50 share of the film. These partners will be with distribution channels, giving them global access for distribution and giving those partners an incentive to ensure the movie's success.
-The new marketing strategy is to use the current core marketing platforms to promote WWE Studios release.
-Luisi introduce "The Day" as the first film that is a WWE Studios acquisition, and "No One Lives," which is the first co-financing project, and will use Brodus Clay in a supporting role. "Dead Man Down" was also discussed as another co-financing project.
-"The Marine: Homefront" and "Leprechaun: Origins" were introduced as the franchise movies they would be doing. Luisi said "The Marine" would star a WWE talent and promised the announcement of who that is soon, and confirmed that Hornswoggle would be starring in the Leprechaun film.
-Luisi opened the floor to questions. The first question was how much money per picture would be risked on the co-financing projects. Barrios answered the question by saying they would be investing $15 to $25 million over four to eight films total.
-The same questioner asked what plans there were to learn from Oprah's mistakes in the losses she took in her network to ensure WWE doesn't lose what she did. He also took a shot a Vince for the stock price dropping. Vince said Oprah's concept was failed at the beginning because the network was not based on what Oprah does best, which is Oprah, and that she spent too much money on it.
He said WWE will not spend anywhere near the money Oprah did, and the biggest difference was Oprah no longer had her base to drive her audience to her network, whereas WWE still does. Vince said they could close on a linear network if they wanted to, but they are also looking at other options and will provide their customers what they want, not what they don't want.
-An attorney asked about three alternatives to a traditional cable channel, specifically Go Fight Live, YouTube streaming channels (which do not yet exist), and a platform similar to that offered by kink.com. Barrios said right now, the ratio of TV video hours to Internet video hours is still 5:1 so the focus is still TV because that is where the economics point.
-A question was asked about the decline in PPV buys and asked if it was time to lower PPV costs. Vince said no and gave his standard "communal viewing" answer. The questioner countered with UFC charging the same as WWE but UFC is real where WWE is scripted and it seemed to him people would spend more for the real thing. Vince countered with saying the two audiences are completely different, and that UFC PPVs have dropped like a rock. He reiterated that they will not be dropping the price.
-A questioner asked about the ability to buy the entire year of PPVs in one shot like in other sports. Vince said PPVs are part of the strategy with the network and so there may be something in the future. The questioner asked about content revolving around individuals, and Vince said that second only to PPV their audience was interested in programs centered around individuals and that would be something we can expect with a network.
-Vince was asked why they continue to be a public company and get questioned on everything they do. Vince said he gets that a lot. He said it makes them better business people, and allows them to get the great group they have up there, and allows them to expand beyond "one man's vision."
-A questioner asked why, since WrestleMania is the Super Bowl of wrestling, didn't they make Mania free and charge sponsors at the Super Bowl level. Vince said he suspected that if the NFL could get away with putting the Super Bowl on PPV they would. He nicely replied it would make no financial sense to change to the same format as the Super Bowl.
-Vince was asked if he was concerned about weather at WrestleMania 29. He answered no and said that fans are smart enough to know when to wear a jacket. He added if it snows it could be fun.
-One of the original questioners asked if WWE Classics will be dropped when the network debuts. Vince said probably. He also asked what was going on with the stock being down so far. Vince said it was down based on their performance, and rightfully show, but said next year you should see different things.
-Vince was asked when the network would go live. Vince danced around the question and again implied that it may not be a traditional network.
-A questioner asked Levesque about the Internet rumors and what the future was for developmental. Hunter repeated what he said in the statement he put out at the time that they were not shutting developmental down, and would be expanding it over time.
-Vince was asked about Be A Star and the PG product. He said the core product would remain PG, but that they would be expanding their movies to provide R rated content for their audience. He put over the anti-bullying campaign huge and said it was a big problem and they were happy to be a part of a solution.
-Vince was asked if they would be showing the PPVs on the network. Vince said it was a possibility.
-The final question was the possibility of a physical Hall of Fame. Vince said it was something way on the back burner that they will probably do at some point, but there are no plans at this time.
-Jim Langham thanked everyone for coming and closed the meeting.
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