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Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (2 of 3)


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This post originally appeared on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on April 24, 2008.

 In the case of pro wrestling, the WWE's popular television shows--Monday Night RawECW, and Friday Night Smackdown target a young adult male and teenage audience.

Advertisers expect this audience, and the shows position their texts to presumably appeal to heterosexual U.S. young men in particular, despite the fact that some estimates have WWE audiences at 30 percent to 40 percent female, the average age of the WWE's fan base is older than the target demographic, and WWE's international popularity often helps bolster flagging enthusiasm in this country.

This economic marginalization can lead to great creativity among pro wrestling fans excluded from the debate--see scholarship, for instance, about how Latino-American children interpret the WWE narrative from Ellen Seiter, Sue Clerc and Catherine Salmon's work on pro wrestling slash, and Brian Pronger's writing about pro wrestling from the standpoint of a gay spectator.

However, it also leads to great frustration among female fans who want stronger female wrestling characters, older wrestling fans who want "more traditional" wrestling fare, homosexual wrestling fans who want greater diversity in how masculinity is defined, and among transgenerational families who want the WWE product to be "more family-friendly."

After all, the basic storyline of a professional wrestling match is not necessarily suited particularly for young adult males, and the history of pro wrestling emphasizes a diversity of potential audiences for wrestling, such as Chad Dell's work on 1950s female wrestling fan communities.

Before the WWE's national expansion in the mid-1980s (with an emphasis on appealing to male children at the time), wrestling television programming was thought of primarily as a way to get fans to come to live events. Since these shows were viewed as the advertisement rather than the product, wrestling promoters had much less necessity to narrow the focus of who their primary audience would be.

However, when it comes to buying pay-per-views, DVD, subscriptions to the WWE 24/7 VOD channel, merchandise, tickets to live events, etc., the age and gender of the consumer is no longer an issue--only their discretionary income.

Thus, while the logic of the television industry has altered the way pro wrestling tells its stories, the WWE still exists as much more than only a television text, and this "transmediation" of the narrative means the company has economic reasons to value its "surplus audiences." 

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