Monday, November 10, 2014

Outside the Demographic

I really enjoyed "Growing up and Growing More Risqué by Henry Jenkins IV in Steel Chair to the Head this weekend.  It proposed the very interesting concept that the WWF "grew up" alongside its once young Hulkamaniacs.  I think Jenkins is completely right in his assessment, but I question the business side of Vince's methods.

Is that really a sustainable business model?  If wrestling only catered to a single generation, "growing up" with the fans, the WWF would be out of a program within a single lifetime.  I guess wrestling could evolve into a cyclic existence: kids' program to teenage risqué to grownup entertainment to elderly programming (which is almost back to kids' tv), and repeat.  Even then, though, wouldn't following a generation of people throughout their lives financially exhaust their wrestling budget?  There are only so many wrestling shirts you can buy, after all (though I have friends who would beg to differ), and an individual is only going to make a single subscription to the network of $9.99/month.  Wouldn't it be more financially prudent to try to program either for multiple age groups simultaneously or to focus on an age group with a constant influx of new faces?  If you watched wrestling as a kid, you might want your kids to watch it too (but not if you watched in the 50s-60s, and you're letting your kids watch in the 90s...  And if you were a fan in the 90s, you shouldn't want your kids to watch that...).  What about [potential] fans of the same generation who were just a few years outside Vince's intended audience (e.g. the little brother of the teenaged fan)?  Arguably, we (meaning me... Born in the 90s) missed Vince's interest group.  The Attitude Era of wrestling didn't align with our teenage years, and the focus now seems to be mostly to a younger or older people group (the Family Model).  We shouldn't like wrestling; it hasn't been catered to us.  Maybe that means that Vince's model is not as flawed as I think, or maybe it means that The WWE is moving away from such a focused demographic.  Either way, the product has somehow captured our attention, and we continue to feed the business with our T-shirt obsessions.  And fake championship belts.  Those are cool.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

You raise some great questions, Melissa. Part of this is the struggle between "target demographics," on the one hand, and the actual audience a show draws. WWE exists as an overall business but also as a TV show (RAW and Smackdown), the latter of which fits within the TV industry's advertising model of often focusing the show on a particular "demo." In reality, a wide range of WWE's fans in the 1980s weren't child Hulkamaniacs, just as the majority of fans weren't teenagers or young adult males during the Attitude Era. However, that was the demographic that advertisers wanted, and they were drawing that demographic heavily--so they put their heaviest focus around it.

Elsewhere, I've written about the idea of "surplus audiences," the audiences who watch but fall outside the target demo. For these audiences, it can be very frustrating, because you like a show despite the fact that it obviously isn't made for you...Wrestling is a "soap opera for men" yet estimates say somewhere between a third and half of its audience is female. Wrestling has been "for kids," or for "young men," yet its audience is much more diverse. WWE programs its show as if it's largely for the U.S. audience, but a significant amount of its support is international. These "target demos" have very real impact on how the show looks and feels, though, and I think Henry IV's perspective comes from someone who grew up constantly in the demo WWE was targeting at the time.

In theory, though, with the "following a generation" argument, if WWE became tamer when the Hulkamaniac and Attitude fan became of parenting age, the cycle might start all over again with their taking their kids to the area and WWE growing up right alongside the next you can see how that model makes sense.

But the idea that "wrestling is cyclical" sometimes has also become an excuse to explain why bad decisions, etc., led to wrestling's popularity falling.