Television

'Our top three international markets are the UK, Australia and India' : Dixie Carter - TNA Entertainment president

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In 2002, TNA Entertainment found a gap in the marketplace to compete with WWE. TNA Wrestling was born and is now seen in 120 countries globally.

TNA has carved out a separate positioning for itself. While WWE is entertainment, TNA is professional wrestling.

Spending the first five years of its existence on establishing the brand in the US, the focus has been to expand TNA‘s global reach. And India is TNA‘s one of the top three markets outside the US.

In order to complement its roster of events, ESPN Star Sports (ESS) signed a deal with TNA Wrestling a few years back to broadcast their programming. The sports broadcaster renewed its deal for TNA content last year.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com‘s Ashwin Pinto, TNA Entertainment president Dixie Carter elaborates on the company‘s plans to up its game in India.

Excerpts:

When TNA Wrestling started out in 2002, what were the key goals?

In the late 1990s, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Federation (WWF) combined for approximate gross revenues of $800-$900 million per year. By the time TNA started in 2002, WWF had the only major international professional wrestling company in the world.

So there was not only room, but a need for competition in the marketplace. Thus, our goal was to establish TNA as a premiere professional wrestling company worldwide.

To what extent have these goals been accomplished?

TNA just celebrated its seventh anniversary and we are now seen in more than 120 countries globally. For the last four years, we have had a tremendous relationship with our US cable TV partner Spike TV and we just signed a new three-year deal with them.

During the second quarter of this year, more than 1.8 million viewers on an average tuned in to TNA: iMPACT! on Spike TV each week. Overall, TNA: iMPACT! saw a 31 per cent overall growth with double digit increases in the key demographics of M18-49 (+33 per cent) and P18-49 (+40 per cent). TNA now routinely exceeds those ratings of WWE‘s ECW brand and we are closing the gap with their Smackdown brand.

Additionally, we have grown our international business exponentially in the last two years. By developing relationships with broadcasters in the UK, Australia and with ESPN Star Sports (ESS), TNA has become a global entity.

We have also assembled a talent roster that can compete with any promotion out there. As far as challenges are concerned, I think that adequate capitalisation is the biggest challenge for any start up. We have had to be smart with our resources and prioritise them. The other main challenge was to convince people that we were going to be around for the long-term, and I think we‘ve done that.

At the time of launch on one hand you had the success of the WWE. On the other hand, you had the failure of Turner‘s WCW. What were the learnings from this?

We learned that the fan base will support two professional wrestling companies. Obviously, it is a sobering lesson when a company that generated the revenue and had the success that WCW had, could and would go out of business just a couple of years later. You have to learn from those mistakes made.

How is TNA positioned vis-a-vis the WWE?

A couple of years ago, I read a transcript of a Vince McMahon (WWE chairman) interview where he said that WWE is entertainment and TNA is professional wrestling, and I couldn‘t agree more. We want to emphasise our athletes and their athletic ability, and we don‘t run from what we are.

Could you talk about the strategy TNA is following to grow its reach globally?

TNA spent the first five years of its existence focussing on establishing the brand in the US. Once we felt that that we were on firm footing, we began to expand our reach. I think that the United Kingdom is a good case study for what we are trying to accomplish globally.

First, we established a successful relationship with a top TV partner, and then built the brand through promotional appearances and then eventually live events and consumer products.

‘TNA needs to provide ESS with more content such as TNA Epics and regularly scheduled promotional appearances with TNA superstars in India‘

How much of a challenge is it to grow fan loyalty for the brand given the competition from the WWE and an increasingly fragmented media environment?

In four years, we have doubled our average audience on Spike TV in the US and are beating our competitors programming in key countries worldwide. By that alone, we are the fastest growing wrestling company in the world.

WWE is the gold standard in the professional wrestling business, but a lot of people have stopped watching wrestling. And as the upstart company, we have the opportunity to offer something different.

In how many homes is TNA seen globally and what new television deals were signed recently?

TNA is seen in over 120 countries around the world with many millions of viewers tuning in each week. We recently signed new deals with Foxtel in Australia, Canal 9 in Denmark and W9 in France.

Where does India fit in the scheme of things for TNA?

India offers a tremendous opportunity for TNA. From a consumer index standpoint, if India continues its recent financial growth it will become the fifth largest consumer economy by 2025 and we want to be a part of that.

Aside from television licensing revenues, we have to activate our strategy for live events and other commercial opportunities.

What are the different shows that TNA offers and has this been increased over the past year?

TNA‘s flagship show is the weekly two hour series TNA iMPACT! In addition, we produce 12 monthly three hour pay-per-views per year. TNA Xplosion is a one-hour edited version of iMPACT! airing outside the United States with some exclusive content added. We also recently launched a one-hour show in a ‘best of‘ format called TNA Epics. This show highlights the best matches, moments and superstars in TNA history.

In the ratings sweepstakes TNA is behind the WWE in India. What is the game plan to close this gap?

TNA needs to provide ESS with more content such as TNA Epics and regularly scheduled promotional appearances with TNA superstars in India. We currently are on a one week delay in terms of the content broadcasted in India versus the United States.

We hope to close that gap and have our programmes airing within the same week. And obviously, planning live events in India is a major piece of our strategy.

We are planning a promotional tour in India in conjunction with ESS. TNA superstars haven‘t visited since 2005, so we are long overdue to return. We are also creating customised station IDs and bumper breaks.

In terms of revenues what growth do you see this year? How much of it comes from outside the US?

We are looking for a 10 per cent growth this year. This year, approximately 15 per cent of our revenue will come from international markets. Our top three markets are the UK, Australia and India.

Is new media playing a more important role in TNA‘s brand building strategy?

TNA was an early adopter of YouTube, and subsequently we are now one of their most all-time viewed channels with close to 200 million views. We continue to strive to stay on the cutting edge of new media and social networking technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and whatever forms of communication can best help TNA reach out to its fans.

We also reward our die-hard fans with opportunities available exclusively online and not to the general public. For instance, if you follow TNA on Twitter, at live events we hide a backstage pass in the venue and then reveal its location exclusively on our Twitter account. The fan who finds it gets to go backstage during the show.

What plans does TNA have in the licensing and merchandising space?

We have learned to be patient and selective in choosing our licensing partners. Aligning with great companies is what will create successful licensing programmes, create great products for our fans and bring TNA the most revenue.

Jakks Pacific is our new worldwide master toy licensee and we will launch our first action figures and play sets together starting in summer 2010. We are very excited about adding this to our licensing and merchandising mix. TNA has been out of the toy category for two years and our fans have been asking for these products. For this reason, we expect great success when we launch our toys next year.

We released our first video game in September 2008 with Midway Games which to-date has sold close to 1.5 million units. We are currently evaluating our options for our next video game partner due to the Warner acquisition of Midway and expect to make an announcement soon.

For our trading cards and sports memorabilia our partner is Tristar. In particular our trading cards have been a great success. We‘ve just launched our third series to retail this month.

Internally, we create our own merchandise across several categories and sell it directly to our fans at live events and via shoptna.com. We specifically focus on designing and creating our own apparel. We also handle the creation of our replica belts, and specialty collectible merchandise like the Sting bats, Superstar programs and collectible TNA books.

TNA has stars like Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarett who have wrestled for years in other organisations. Does this familiarity make it easier for fans to connect with the TNA brand?

TNA tries to strike a balance between recognisable names from other companies and our own homegrown talent. We‘ve found that the combination of both seasoned veterans and the next great superstars of tomorrow elevates our entire brand.

 

Have fans‘ attitudes towards sports entertainment changed over this decade as per research?

There is an old saying --- "for those who believe, no explanation is necessary; and for those who don‘t believe, no explanation is possible." The mission for TNA in 2009 and beyond is to attract more people who believe that professional wrestling is a great form of entertainment, and that TNA is their preferred brand of professional wrestling.

When WCW closed down, there was worry that wrestlers and fans would not have an alternative apart from the WWE. To what extent has TNA managed to emerge as a healthy option?

After seven years we have emerged as the only healthy option for both talent and fans alike. Since TNA started, several people have tried and failed to develop an alternative or competition to WWE and TNA.

One challenge is to cultivate new talent. What is TNA‘s strategy in this regard?

Since we don‘t currently have a developmental territory, we have to keep a close eye on the best unsigned talent around the world.

Recently, we signed Ayako Hamada from Japan and Sarah Stock from Mexico, both female talents who are going to do great things for our Knockouts division. We are actively looking for Indian talent as well.

Hamada from Japan and Sarah Stock from Mexico, both female talents who are going to do great things for our Knockouts division. We are actively looking for Indian talent as well.

When WCW closed down, there was worry that wrestlers and fans would not have an alternative apart from the WWE. To what extent has TNA managed to emerge as a healthy option?

After seven years we have emerged as the only healthy option for both talent and fans alike. Since TNA started, several people have tried and failed to develop an alternative or competition to WWE and TNA.

One challenge is to cultivate new talent. What is TNA‘s strategy in this regard?

Since we don‘t currently have a developmental territory, we have to keep a close eye on the best unsigned talent around the world.

Recently, we signed Ayako Hamada from Japan and Sarah Stock from Mexico, both female talents who are going to do great things for our Knockouts division. We are actively looking for Indian talent as well.

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