– WWE’s International Executive VP Andrew Whitaker recently spoke with IndianTelevision.com about WWE’s expansion in India and more. Here are some highlights:
IT: You recently opened an office in Mumbai. Given that this is an important market, why did it take so long?
AW: India has been one of our most successful television markets for a number of years now. In line with our global strategy, since we have begun to introduce our other lines of business, the time is now right to begin building a more local presence in the market. The Mumbai office is the first step of that process.
You now have a talent development department. Is India going to be a part of this?
We have seen a number of non-American talent prosper within WWE, from The Great Khali to Rey Mysterio and more recently Alberto Del Rio, Sin Cara and Sheamus. In fact this year we signed a new talent from India, Jinder Mahal. This success indicates a significant appetite and opportunity for us to actively recruit international talent and it is an area we will continue to invest in across all markets, including India.
Is there a chance of doing a film co-production in India?
It’s certainly something we may consider. We enjoyed a successful partnership last year with Viacom whereby one of our top WWE Superstars, The Great Khali came runner up on Bigg Boss. There are a number of parallels to be drawn between WWE and Bollywood and we see great opportunities for us in this area.
What strategy has WWE followed to grow the brand globally over the past couple of years?
Our global growth strategy on a market by market basis is first to bring WWE’s television programming into the marketplace, which is usually the starting point to begin engaging fans and bringing our unique form of entertainment into people’s homes. Once we have established a strong television audience, we then look to introduce our other multiple lines of business, from live events where fans can see our Superstars live and in person to our vast lines of consumer products, digital media and publishing. WWE is a global business, seen in more than 145 countries in 30 different languages, and key to our successful global growth is our local office presence. We have offices in Stamford, New York, Los Angeles, London, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and now Mumbai, which are fundamental to our local level operations.
To what extent has the share of revenue from international markets grown? Which are the top three markets?
When we set up our first international office in London in 2002, international revenues were worth $32 million. That figure has now grown to over $133 million. Outside of the USA and Canada, our biggest markets are the United Kingdom, Mexico and France.
In terms of the new business model, which are the key focus areas?
There are two key components to WWE’s recently announced brand expansion plans. First, the company will maintain a strong focus of growing its core business on a global basis and announced that Paul “Triple H” Levesque will be heading a new talent development programme. In addition, innovation will be the key to the long term growth through new consumer product launches, new television programming and international growth. The second component will be the active pursuit to acquire entertainment content companies and the outsourcing of WWE’s core competencies – television and film production, live event production and licensing.
There has been talk about mixed martial arts and boxing now providing more competition for your viewership globally. I would appreciate your take on this?
We don’t view MMA or boxing as competitors for our viewership globally. Their product is completely different to WWE. Whilst they may borrow from various elements of WWE’s production to entertain their own fans more, what they provide is a pure sporting spectacle. We view our competition as any live or televised family entertainment event.
Piracy is a big concern especially in markets like China. How are you tackling this issue?
WWE is actively engaged in minimising the impact of piracy and counterfeit products on its businesses. We have a robust and mature trademarks registration and protection policy. The company takes down sites in real time that illegally stream WWE’s PPV’s, which otherwise represent a significant segment of annual revenue. The company also ensures that it seizes all counterfeit goods and legally challenges those companies and individuals found guilty of their manufacture and distribution. Piracy is a problem all over the world and cheats fans of genuine articles. It is a cost burden for brands and limits the investment being made in new lines for those consumers purchasing the genuine and authentic branded products. We are committed to continuing to do our utmost to protect our IP in every country.
Could you shed light on how social networks are changing the equation between WWE and its fans?
The way I see it, the rapid adoption of social networks gives a large amount of power to the fan. It is less about “selling” and more about engaging with the fans. WWE is taking a more editorial rather than a promotional approach with social networks. The key is to use social networks to entertain and inform while subtly marketing to fans.
Are the social networks allowing you to change course and take corrective action quicker?
Absolutely! social media gives us immediate feedback to everything we do as a company. We have Facebook pages for many of our products from the WWE Superstars to our merchandising and the information we receive is shared directly with our creative and editorial teams. Social media feedback is key to our future initiatives.