The 1st, 5th, and 8th quarter-hours are arguably the most important segments of either two-hour program, AEW Dynamite and WWE NXT.
All Elite Wrestling’s roster of women haven’t main evented any of the 45 episodes in the history of the company’s flagship program, Dynamite, which airs Wednesdays on TNT, head-to-head against WWE NXT on the USA Network. To contrast, NXT has more often put women in these key segments, including the final “main event” 8th quarter.
Why are Q1, Q5, and Q8 important?
The 8th quarter is perceptibly prestigious because it’s the show closer. By its very placement at the end of the program the match or whatever content may be promoted throughout the show, and may be used to “anchor” viewers’ attention, driving them to stay tuned during the segments leading up to the end of the show.
More concretely, the 8th and 5th quarters are the only two segments that are actually likely to gain viewers. That’s the case for both AEW and NXT. The 5th quarter opens the 2nd hour of the program, perhaps as viewers turn away from other programs or activities that have ended at the previous hour.
By definition, the opening segment (Q1) cannot gain viewers from the prior segment of the program, but the opening segment is the most-viewed segment more often than any other. Again, this is true for both AEW and NXT. Reasons may include a benefit from a strong lead-in from whatever program precedes Dynamite or NXT, or because viewers tend to tune-in, then gradually tune-out over the course of 2 hours.
How often are women featured in these segments (Q1, Q5, and Q8) for either program?
The limits of this data
As of this writing, I’m missing segment labels for the first month of each program (episodes on October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30), so this study will not include data associated with those 5 weeks’ episodes, but will include all programs from November 6 to July 29, excluding December 25 (when there was no episode of Dynamite). In all, we’re looking at 38 episodes of each program.
This study will also be hindered by the nature of the labels themselves. The labels may not account for the appearance of every person who appeared in a given segment. The labels are merely derived from text descriptions of each quarter from reports in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Further, quarter-hours offer some enticing detail we might use to get insight into which stars are driving viewership, but quarter-hours do not neatly organize segments of a wrestling program. Matches especially often overlap multiple quarter-hours. Promos and angles are often less than 15 minutes long. Ideally, we’d like to be studying the minute-by-minute data for a better understanding. AEW clearly looks at minute-by-minute data (and WWE probably does too) but it’s doubtful wrestling companies will allow minute-by-minute data, barring favorable snippets, to reach the public.
What that said, who’s appeared most often in Q1, Q5, and Q8?
Some Q8 appearances for NXT include episodes that had an overrun, so Q8 wasn’t the last quarter of the program, but Q9 was. NXT had its last overrun on March 11. Here’s what Q8 appearances look like beginning with the March 18 episode through July 29.
It’s apparent from these tables women appear in Q1, Q5, and Q8 more often on NXT than on AEW Dynamite.
For AEW, we’re looking at 114 instances of Qs 1, 5, and 8. Of those 114 instances, AEW’s women’s roster appeared in 11 of those quarters (or 10%).
Of those 11, there were just 2 instances where women entirely occupied the quarter-hour. In the other eight, women appeared in part of the quarter along with appearances from men.
In the 2 instances where appearances of women made up the entire quarter-hour, (Q5 on November 6 and Q5 on July 8), viewers were lost in a quarter (as shown earlier) usually gains viewers.
It’s notable that November 6 and July 8 are nearly at opposite extreme ends of the chronology of this data set.
What did we learn?
This study might stir but probably won’t settle debates about AEW’s presentation of women. Either AEW’s women aren’t TV attractions because they’re not put in a sufficient position to do so or they’re not put in a position to do so because it’s judged ahead of time they won’t get over or the truth is somewhere on the spectrum between those alternatives.
It might be contended the company’s women’s roster — especially in its current state, hindered by injuries of Britt Baker and Kris Statlander and by Covid-related limits on international travel — lacks star power and talent depth. It may be pointed out that the 2 instances when women fully occupied one of the key quarter-hours in which viewers are normally gained, viewers were lost. And viewers are especially important, it will be argued, amid weekly head-to-head competition with NXT.
On the other hand, star development is partly a self-fulfilling prophecy: stars cannot be developed without sufficient opportunity. There is clear evidence here, though, that opportunity is rarely granted to AEW’s women in quarters when viewership is likeliest to increase (Q5 and Q8) or when the audience is likely to be largest (Q1) or when the audience is likeliest to perceive talent as important (Q8). More time for women on the show, and in key quarters, may in fact cost short-term losses in viewership that are necessary investments if women are to better drive viewership in the future, and possibly to better attract a female audience that’s proportionally lacking compared to WWE programming.
Recruitment seems to be a factor too. NXT’s women’s roster is deeper in talent than that of AEW. In the months and years leading up to the launch of AEW in January 2019, WWE increased the number of talent it holds under exclusive contract. Still, after AEW’s debut on TNT in October 2019, WWE and Impact have signed women who might’ve been strong additions to AEW’s roster: Shotzi Blackheart (signed with WWE in October), Scarlett Bordeaux (signed with WWE in November), Mercedes Martinez (to WWE in January 2020), and Deonna Purrazzo (to Impact in May). Since the debut of Dynamite, AEW most notably added Statlander to its roster, who was being pursued by WWE.