World Wrestling Entertainment Turns “Very Opportunistic” About Startups


Earlier today, Tout, a young, San Francisco-based startup whose users create and post 15-second-long video status updates, announced a new, $13.4 million round of funding, including from publicly traded World Wrestling Entertainment.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement caught the attention of plenty of outlets. AllThingsD titled a piece about the round “Video Sharing + Body Slams = Tout,” while PandoDaily aptly characterized the WWE as the “most hardcore investor” that social video platforms have yet seen.

But the WWE is no joke, and neither is its interest in making more investments in Silicon Valley startups. So says WWE executive vice president Stephanie McMahon, daughter of company founder and CEO Vince McMahon. “Tout is really the first deal that we’ve done of this kind,” she says. “But we’re very opportunistic, so if the right opportunity came along, we’d definitely consider it.” Investing in startups is “something we’re exploring.”

Taking the WWE’s reach into account, that’s a big deal. Though it’s not clear whether the WWE is interested exclusively in technologies that it can directly employ (“We’re really just starting this, so I couldn’t say,” says McMahon), its embrace of Tout, for example, looks likely to raise awareness of the startup by many orders of magnitude.

Consider that the WWE broadcasts to roughly 12 million viewers per week in the U.S. and to more than 145 countries in 30 languages altogether, according to Nielsen Media. In fact, its live, Monday night show, “Raw,” and its prerecorded Friday night program “SmackDown,” are the highest-rated shows for the cable networks that feature them, USA and Syfy.

WWE also pushes content in front of more than 72 million Facebook fans across numerous pages; tens of millions of Twitter followers (including the accounts of its most famous wrestlers, such as John Cena); and its more than 500,000 YouTube channel subscribers, who’ve viewed more than one billion WWE videos. (WWE produces nine original shows expressly for YouTube.) That’s saying nothing of the WWE’s official Website, which attracts 12 million unique visitors a month.

The WWE is using Tout across all of those properties, McMahon tells me. When “Raw” moves from a two-hour to a three-hour format in two weeks, for example, WWE fans will be invited to fill out that programming time by creating “touts,” some of which will be broadcast in real time on the show. They’ll also be asked to send in “touts” to the WWE’s prerecorded programs and to the WWE’s more than 300 yearly live events. And McMahon expects plenty of WWE fans to send “touts” to the WWE’s site, especially when someone like Cena tells them they’ll get a knuckle-sandwich otherwise. (The “touts need to be relevant and to make sense,” so there will be “specific calls to action,” says McMahon, herself a former star of the WWE stage..)

Will wrestling fans be as enthusiastic about creating short videos as they are about tweeting or photo sharing? Who knows? It’s certainly smart of Tout’s CEO, Michael Downing, to point out in an interview that his 20-person company has many other users, including National Geographic, NBC and C-SPAN, and that more sites, including dating destinations, question-and-answer sites, and restaurant review sites, are poised to integrate Tout in the coming months.

Indeed, Downing says he hopes Tout’s API “will live in thousands of sites” by December — and that some will be willing to pay a subscription fee for a premium version that Tout plans to roll out this fall. (The company hasn’t decided yet on what it will charge those customers. Meanwhile, Downing says he expects advertising to become a second revenue stream over time.)

Either way, Downing says of the WWE that “for a media company partner that can show how we can create engagement, there is no better partner.”

No doubt other startups will soon be saying the same to the WWE — and hoping the company puts the moves on them, too.

Image: Photo of Stephanie McMahon courtesy of WWE.