CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- UPN and the WWE have signed a multi-year renewal deal to keep "WWE Smackdown" at the network through the 2004-05 season.
Despite ratings being down by 13% from last season (6.37 million viewers on average vs. 5.55 million as of March 2), "Smackdown" is still UPN's most-watched program as well as the top-rated show among male teens and the third-highest-rated show among persons 12 through 34 (behind CBS and NBC) in its time period.
The deal also marks a change in the series' license-fee structure. Previously, in what was essentially a time buy, the WWE had paid a straight fee of $300,000 per week (about $16 million a year) to UPN in order to broadcast the series. In exchange, the WWE sold most of "Smackdown's" ad inventory, with UPN handling just two minutes' worth of spots. Beginning this fall however, the WWE will switch to a more traditional license-fee arrangement as now UPN will pay the company about $500,000 per week for the series and take over selling all of the ad inventory.
Despite the netlet actually paying for the series now, the switch will likely end up putting more money in UPN's pocket. The WWE reportedly makes $1 million per episode through its ad spots and with UPN taking over the inventory, it will see a net profit of $500,000 per episode, an increase from the $300,000 the WWE currently pays them.
Other details announced: UPN will keep the series on Thursday nights and the WWE will create four "Smackdown"-related specials per year in addition to its usual 52 weeks-a-year format.
This article was updated on March 12.