WWE Signs Its First Chinese Wrestler, Strikes Exclusive Deal With China Streamer PPTV

Courtesy of WWE
WWE's first Chinese talent Bin Wang (left) and WWE executive vp Paul "Triple H" Levesque

“Today’s historic announcements further demonstrate WWE’s long-term commitment to China,” said WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon.

Sports entertainment powerhouse WWE on Thursday unveiled an exclusive multiyear digital distribution deal in China with streaming service PPTV and signed its first-ever Chinese performer, Bin Wang.

It also announced the first WWE live event in China in more than three years, which will take place on Sept. 10.

The news was unveiled during a press conference at the city's Mercedes-Benz Arena that featured WWE superstar John Cena, WWE chief revenue and marketing officer Michelle Wilson, vp and general manager of Greater China Jay Li and executive vp talent, live events and creative Paul “Triple H” Levesque.

“Today’s historic announcements further demonstrate WWE’s long-term commitment to China,” said WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. The partnerships with PPTV and venue operator Expo Group, as well as the signing of Wang "will enable us to engage our fans in China like never before,” he added.

The multiyear PPTV agreement covers exclusive digital distribution in China of flagship weekly shows Raw and SmackDown in Mandarin. "Starting June 28, for the first time ever, fans in China will be able to stream all three hours of Raw and two hours of SmackDown on demand exclusively on PPTV and PPTV Sports," the companies said. Fans can download the PPTV app and watch the shows on smart TVs, set-top boxes, mobile devices and tablets, as well as on PPTV.com and Sports.PPTV.com.

In addition, WWE shortform content will be available on PPTV’s digital platforms. PPTV also will leverage popular digital and social platforms, including WeChat and Sina Weibo, to share WWE content with fans. Plus, PPTV will launch and manage a new WWE website in China.

PPTV, which reaches more than 400 million users across China with its advertising-supported services, already made headlines earlier this week when it secured the exclusive Chinese online rights to Legendary Entertainment's video game adaptation Warcraft for a record sum. Last year, it struck an exclusive, multiyear licensing deal with CBS Studios International for a package of series from CBS and Showtime, including select new CBS event series, upcoming Showtime dramas and current hit shows from both.

So far, WWE has made available a one-hour edited version of Raw in China to a range of digital distributors on a non-exclusive basis with a three-week delay. The same edited version also airs on several regional TV services in the country with the same delay. Now, with the PPTV deal, for the first time ever, the full WWE shows will be available in China via the company within hours of airing in the U.S.

"This is a sea change in China" for WWE, the company's chief strategy and financial officer George Barrios tells The Hollywood Reporter. WWE has been active in China for eight to nine years and felt now was the time for the next step.

"Our success in a market tends to follow a fairly predictable pattern," Barrios explains. "We are in a new market for five to 10 years, our brand builds, and then we hit an inflection point, and that is usually driven by a new distribution deal with a partner. Then we continue to invest and bring live events." Then, five to eight years after that, there is typically another inflection point in terms of growth, he said.

"We have been in China for eight to nine years, that was the first phase," Barrios tells THR. "This deal with PPTV is the first inflection point for us. It is a pivot point for WWE in China."

Will the PPTV deal eventually lead to the WWE network, the firm's successful OTT service, launching in China? Says Barrios: "We have said that over the next six to 12 months we will figure out the right model to bring it to China."

WWE also has made history by signing Wang, 22, to a developmental contract, giving him the opportunity to train to become the first-ever Chinese superstar in WWE history. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he has been training for the past two years in Japan at Inoki Genome Federation, a wrestling and MMA promotion founded by WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki. Wang will relocate to Orlando, Fla., this week where he will begin training at the WWE Performance Center.

“It is an honor to be the first-ever Chinese talent in WWE history,” said Wang. “There are no fans in the world that show the same passion as the WWE Universe, and I look forward to training and developing my skills so I can perform for them in the future.”

WWE has brought in talents from various parts of the world, including Europe, Asia and Latin America. "It’s really important for our talent roster to look like our fans," says Barrios.

Asked about China's longer-term potential, he points out that the U.S. remains the largest revenue market for WWE, followed by the U.K. and India, which has grown over the 16 years the company has been active there. "Our internal goal is to over time replicate similar success in China," says Barrios. "The opportunity in China is huge."