The best numbers I could find suggest that 30 percent of homes in the U.S. have access to a DVR. That doesn’t seem like a lot, no, but it’s already had an undeniable impact on the way TV studios evaluate their shows. Lost, The Office, and The Ultimate Fighter all saw their final ratings boosted after taking into account delayed DVR viewings. That means that just because a show doesn’t have killer overnight ratings doesn’t mean plenty of people aren’t watching—they’re just watching a little while later.
This brings us to professional wrestling, or “sports entertainment” if you subscribe to WWE’s way of thinking. Rival promotion TNA Wrestling, which recently brought Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Eric Bischoff on board, announced yesterday that it would be moving its weekly TV show, TNA Impact, from Thursday nights to Monday nights starting on March 8. It will go head to head against WWE Monday Night Raw, Impact on Spike TV and Monday Night Raw on USA. It’s a big deal in the wrestling world because it marks the first time WWE has had direct competition since it purchased WCW in March, 2001. You could argue that WWE has never really recovered since then, sorta producing a bland product that hasn’t been nearly as exciting as it was in the days of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock. TNA, for a certain number of people, represents the best chance of seeing “good” wrestling on TV again (aside from smaller promotions like Dragon Gate USA or Ring of Honor, as made famous by the movie The Wrestler), whether within TNA itself, or by forcing WWE to up its game. After all, if WWE doesn’t improve, people will now have the option to see what TNA is up to.
The thing is, this isn’t going to be another Monday Night War. (The Monday Night Wars refers to the period of time when the then-WWF went head to head against WCW on Monday nights, Raw vs. Nitro.) What typified the Wars was that people would often actively, and constantly, change the channel, going from Raw to Nitro when Raw hit a dull moment, and going from Nitro to Raw when Nitro hit a dull moment. The DVR, clever thing that it is, makes “changing the channel” seem so quaint. It’s right up there with turning a crank to start your car.
Look at it this way: say you’re a casual professional wrestling fan and you have a DVR. You’ve heard of TNA and wouldn’t mind giving it a shot. But why should you give up your habit of watching Monday Night Raw live to try out this new, plucky little promotion in TNA? What you’d do, of course, is watch WWE live while DVRing TNA. Then, the next day after work or school, you come home and watch TNA on the DVR, fast-forwarding through the silly parts. (There will be plenty of silly parts.)
The DVR makes changing back and forth between the shows completely unnecessary.
“But why didn’t people then tape shows back in 1998 with a VCR? It’s not like the DVR invented TV recording.”
For one, because many DVRs out there are capable of recording one channel while you’re viewing another one. There’s no voodoo involved in making that happen: it just works. So, watch one show while recording the other, then watch the other on you own time. Setting up a DVR is also much easier than it ever was to set up a VCD. Not having to juggle a library of blank videotapes is such a blessing.
It should also be noted that not every episode of TNA Impact will be live. That means you’d be able to look up the results of the show before it airs on TV.
That’s another knock against the idea of TNA re-creating the Monday Night Wars: the Internet has matured a whole heck of a lot since then. People will essentially be “live Tweeting” both shows throughout, so you’ll instantly be able to look up what’s happening as you check your laptop while getting a nice, healthy snack from the kitchen.
So good luck to TNA with moving to Monday nights, but I don’t know how fully it’s going to recapture the “magic” of the Monday Night Wars. (And isn’t that the point of moving to Monday nights?) We’re several years past the point where the only way to follow the action is by tuning in live.
Please note that I haven’t seen an episode of Raw since, like, 2002, so take this for what it’s worth: not much.