Written by Antonio Archie
With the recent news of Smackdown moving to Tuesday nights and the beginning of another brand split, some TNA fans are concerned. I’m sure TNA shares those same concerns with good reason. With Vince’s power and Triple H’s new breed of talent filling the roster, this poses a major problem for TNA, right? There are a few questions we must ask in order to make sure we are looking at the positive side as well as the negatives.
Should TNA move back to Thursdays?
I believe the most important thing for TNA right now is to stay the course and not panic. They need to make the most informed decision possible for what will be best, rather than making a quick reactionary decision. If we look at the facts based purely on past numbers, switching nights probably isn't the best decision. The difference between the final first-run airing on Spike TV and the first airing in their advertised Friday spot on Destination America was a loss of 593,000 viewers (from 980,000 to 387,000). The move to Wednesday nights that followed drew 297,000 viewers (a 90,000 viewer drop from the Friday night debut). The first episode of Impact on Pop drew 255,000 viewers. If that trend continues, we may see another drop in viewership that TNA might not be able to bounce back from. That would be absolutely devastating for the future of TNA and Impact Wrestling as a show. At the end of the day, you can't run forever. If the goal for Smackdown is really to hurt Impact, this won't be the last time they follow Impact to move them out of their spot. Of course they may take an initial hit, but they can always move if over time they find the competition to be too much for them. It's time for TNA to stand their ground.
Could this be a good thing?
There's an obvious threat of Smackdown taking viewers away from Impact, but is it possible that this actually helps TNA in some ways? One of TNA's biggest issues in terms of growth has been the inability to create a buzz. Going head-to-head with Smackdown would certainly get people talking, and let's not forget that TNA's highest viewership ever came when they were competing directly with Raw. Sure they eventually lost that battle, but people were willing to give Impact more of a chance than they ever had and Raw was a much larger threat than Smackdown is now. TNA just didn't deliver and people got bored quickly with the nostalgia of reliving 1996 WCW when everyone was a decade past their prime. This time could be very different now that the quality of what WWE is producing is viewed very poorly by fans and critics, while Impact has received high praise for most of the year from people who have historically been on the other end. Imagine the debut of The Rhodes Scholars or Wade Barrett on Impact to start right as the second hour of Smackdown is beginning. That could be the exact thing TNA needs to pull viewers away from what they're watching. When they hear that guys they've been forced to see being misused for years getting a chance to do something fresh elsewhere while they’re still in their primes, it has to spark some interest.
Also consider the time slots. Smackdown will likely continue airing from 8pm to 10pm, while Impact airs from 9pm to 11pm. Only one hour would be in direct competition. Now consider the fact that for a while now WWE's shows have actually been losing viewers with each hour. In the few hourly splits I've seen for TNA, the viewership for them actually has gone up in the second hour as the main event approaches. If those viewers that are tuning out after the first hour of Smackdown decide to tune in for Impact instead of just finding something else to watch, that’s an amazing opportunity to grow and create new loyal viewers.
What does TNA need to do on their end?
First, TNA needs to show consistency. While WWE has lost viewers over the years as a result of their inability to adapt and produce a compelling product, TNA has lost them for a completely different reason. TNA has lost viewers because of inconsistency across the board. So many people say that they have given up on TNA as fans because they are so inconsistent that they just can’t trust the product. With the almost bi-annual reboots, the constant shifts in product direction and the constant switching to new nights or networks, many fans have simply given up trying to follow because they don’t have confidence in what they’ve invested in staying the same. Changing nights again would just be more of the same issue that has lost so many fans already. TNA has a solid product that people are enjoying and characters that hook the viewer. TNA needs to stay where they are and continue doing what they’re doing well. TNA should stay put where their loyal fanbase knows where to find them and focus on promoting to those who don’t already watch, rather than having an entirely new night that fans have to find their way to.
The other thing TNA needs to do is be a true alternative for the fans. If Smackdown viewers are tuning out after the first hour and they decide to give TNA a try, they aren’t looking for more of the same. 2 hours of long talking segments and slow matches can be draining for the viewers. The viewers have lost that excitement that they started the night with, so TNA needs to open with something to spark their interest again. This is where reviving the X-Division comes into play. If fans have just sat through an hour of Smackdown’s slow style, start them off with fast paced, high flying action that grabs their attention and gives them something completely different than what they have just sat through. If TNA wants to start with a talking segment, let it be something of an EC3/Bennett variety or an Eli Drake promo. Give them a talking segment that they can sink their teeth into and not feel like it’s dragging on. If TNA continues to offer great characters and storylines while giving fans an in-ring product that is superior to what Smackdown offers, they will have success.
TNA and WWE are two companies that will be forever linked. Fans love to compare the two companies and that alone creates intrigue in viewers of both shows. With the shows being on the same night, almost every tweet or comment will be one that compares the two shows. If TNA takes this challenge and bows down out of fear, we’re in big trouble. WWE is bringing 2.5 million wrestling fans to Tuesday nights, so TNA’s task is to convert them while retaining their own. It’s a tough situation that some may believe is a lose-lose for TNA, but “it’s all about the game and how you play it”. I’d be a fool to think there isn’t a huge threat, but if WWE slips up and TNA handles this situation the right way by making a lasting impact on their fans, we may not be the ones up Schitt’s Creek after all. Pun Intended.