Highlights: WWE conference call for fourth quarter

All highlights are courtesy of Buck Woodward of PWInsider.com.

WWE held a conference call with investors on Thursday morning to review the company’s 2010 fourth quarter results. The call included Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and Chief Financial Officer George Barrios.

A full breakdown of the numbers can be viewed at this link.

A breakdown of PPV buys in October, November and December can be viewed at this link.

Vince McMahon opened the call praising the company’s performance over the year, but said some “trends” in the fourth quarter were concerning. This included the decline in live attendance and the 40% drop in home video revenue. McMahon mentioned the company’s continued international expansion including running their first ever show in China and signing new TV deals in Brazil and Russia. He added they were “turning the corner” in regards to talent development and how we would see older stars mixed with new stars at Wrestlemania – stressing that talent would be featured in main events that had never been before at Wrestlemania. In regards to plans for the WWE Network, McMahon said they were in talks with Verizon with more to come.

George Barrios reviewed the financial numbers (a full breakdown of the numbers can be viewed at this link.) In regards to the issue with home video, he referenced retail declines and talent developmental as the live event attendance drop. The increase in price for PPV events helped offset the decline. The increase in TV revenue was mentioned including Smackdown’s move to Syfy in October. Mattel was praised, while the drop in video game sales was blamed on an overall drop in the video game industry. They were confident those sales would increase with the new “WWE All Stars” video game. The restructure of WWE Studios in having movies go direct-to-DVD was mentioned in that it would bring in more money over time.

Question and answer highlights:

* Vince McMahon said they are seeing an “upswing” in regards to talent and the Royal Rumble was an early indication of that. He felt Wrestlemania would be a major launching point for new talent.

* It was mentioned that Mexico is now the second largest market for WWE PPV buys outside of the U.S. There wasn’t any PPV events made available in Mexico last year.

* First quarter results of 2011 will show results of their first holiday toy sales with Mattel.

* When asked if they planned to revise the dividend policy, McMahon said they will look at it from a quarter to quarter basis.

* In regards to managing costs going forward, Barrios said they felt good on what they were doing currently and how they did “heavy lifting” to get leaner in 2008 and 2009.

* The topic of the planned WWE Network was brought up. McMahon said they just had their first meeting with Verizon and have meetings set with all carriers. He said they have a great relationship with Comcast due to them buying NBC Universal (the company Raw and Smackdown operate under). McMahon didn’t anticipate many costs for WWE to launch the network.

* When asked if fans are “buying into the new characters” on TV yet, McMahon said he felt the talents were “really getting over” and was proud of that noting that fan reactions at live events are a big barometer for them.

* When asked who the next “big star or John Cena” would be in the company, McMahon first joked that some talents could possibly be listening in on the call. He praised The Miz, noting he had been with the company for a long time and fought his way to the top. McMahon also named Randy Orton (confusing some since he isn’t a “new” character) and Alberto Del Rio.

* McMahon said since the Atlanta market is more affluent than Phoenix, revenue for Wrestlemania 27 this year was expected to be much higher.

* McMahon said they plan to use celebrities on a more “selective basis” going forward and that attempting a weekly format with Raw forced them go go with secondary stars. He added that using celebrities every week took time away from their own stars and said when they do it, they would only bring in big names.