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USA Network's new deal with WWE could foreshadow a bigger deal

November 16, 2009 | 12:20 pm

USA Network's move to renew its deal for "Monday Night Raw" with World Wrestling Entertainment for another four years may be just the beginning of a broader partnership between the NBC Universal-owned cable network and Vince McMahon's WWE.

MCMAMHON WWE, as was first reported here, is looking to start its own cable network within in the next 18 months, and NBC Universal might be a potential partner. NBC Universal has long ties to WWE that go beyond USA Network. The two companies were partners on the short-lived XFL football league, and NBC Universal sports chief Dick Ebersol and WWE Chairman McMahon have a long relationship.

One of the challenges facing McMahon and WWE is getting distribution for a new channel. NBC Universal has a channel that may fit the bill in its Universal HD network, a cable channel that carries high definition programming. Currently the channel, which is overseen by NBC Universal cable entertainment chief Bonnie Hammer, is a hodgepodge of reruns including "Hogan's Heroes" (yes, they've upgraded it to HDTV-like quality) and "Monk." It also has some sports, movies and even carries a high-definition version of "Raw."

There have been very preliminary chats between the two companies about working together on the WWE network. While Universal HD is a digital channel and only in 55 million homes, WWE programming is a big draw and it would likely help boost distribution for the network.

Obviously there are bigger fish to fry at NBC Universal right now, with cable giant Comcast inching closer to taking control of the entertainment company. For WWE, having Comcast take over NBC would be a plus because Comcast has cable systems reaching almost 25% of the country.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. Credit: Eric Johnson / WWE.