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WWE’s Stephanie McMahon on the Power of Letting Fans Call the Shots

October 11, 2017, 6:00 PM UTC

While many media and live event companies are struggling, the WWE just reported record quarterly revenue. What’s the company’s secret? According to WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon, it all goes back to the fans.

Speaking Wednesday at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., McMahon explained how the company has, in large part, structured its sprawling “content ecosystem” around the feedback it gets from its passionate audience.

The company is a leader in the streaming market—it launched an OTT (over-the-top) Internet-based streaming service in 2014. According to research firm Parks Associates, the WWE’s service is the fifth most popular in the U.S.

Originally, the WWE had planned to do a traditional TV deal, says McMahon, but then the company started taking a closer look at its fans’ online behavior. What they learned, she says, is that WWE viewers are five times more likely to consume online media than the average person. (The WWE also boasts the second-most popular YouTube channel globally.) That data point convinced the company that, along with its live events and partnerships with USA Network and others, it should take a risk on going OTT.

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The WWE also empowers fans by tweaking its in-ring storylines based on what’s resonating with viewers, said McMahon: “We’re taking feedback in real time.” And in WWE NXT, the company’s developmental league, “our audience is actually determining who makes it to the next level—and they know it,” adds McMahon.

“Our audience tells us what they love, what they don’t like, and—worst—what they don’t care about,” she says.

She also attributes recent changes to the women’s wrestling league to WWE fans who used Twitter to demand that female athletes get more screen time and better storylines. The hashtag #GiveDivasAChance trended for three days, says McMahon. The attention spurred her and her father, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, to make significant changes to the division, including launching the all-women’s Mae Young Classic tournament, named after an iconic female wrestler of the 1930s and ’40s—which took place in September.