According to The Sports Business Daily, WWE’s decision to bring back the brand split for RAW & SmackDown is because ESPN had pursed w WWE television deal and that Turner Broadcasting was interested in WWE programming but was unable to act on that interest.
ESPN was reportedly in the running for WWE and met with Stephanie McMahon, Paul Levesque, Michelle Wilson and George Barrios at least four times over the course of the last year. The final point that prevented WWE from moving to ESPN was that all of it’s current sports deals was impossible for the cable network to guarantee that WWE would be able to air 52 weeks a year in the same timeslot. This is one of the reasons WWE left USA Network for a deal with Viacom back in 2000.
Regarding Time Warner, they were approached by CAA about their interest in WWE programming but due to Time-Warner’s then-ongoing merger with AT&T, they were unable to reach a deal. Turner only wanted to acquire SmackDown and not RAW.
ESPN also considered WWE for its ESPN+ streaming service but that was considered competition to the WWE Network.