Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
UFC on Fuel ratings teach a lesson about whether more viewers want to see an event live, or see a show at a more convenient time.
If last week's rating for the Ultimate Fighter was considered good news because the drop from week one wasn't as bad as in the past, the good news didn't last.
Friday's episode of the show did a 0.6 rating and 775,000 viewers, the lowest in the 16-season history of the show. It was an 11 percent drop from week two, and it's clear that the coaching dynamic of Shane Carwin vs. Roy Nelson at least up to this point has not captured the attention of the public. If there is a silver lining, the show did a 0.85 in Males 18-34, its target demographic. It was second on cable in the 10-11 p.m. time slot there. That Males 18-34 number still pales in comparison to the show's history, where figures of 1.5 or more were considered routine.
When the last season was doing what was at the time the lowest ratings in show history, there were a lot of reasons thrown around. Among them were going live made the show a buildup for a fight between unknown fighters, as opposed to a prepackaged taped and carefully edited reality show culminating in a fight. Blame was placed on the night, and it's obvious that's the biggest issue. Blame was placed on people not being used to seeing the show on FX, but the numbers dropped throughout the first season, and are now at a lower level this season. Blame was placed on the coaches, but the coaches this season are doing lower numbers.
There was also a jab thrown at the ratings by World Wrestling Entertainment, which on its Monday Night Raw show, ran a graphic noting that Smackdown, its Friday night show, did more than triple the number of viewers as Ultimate Fighter. Smackdown did 2,625,000 viewers, so the graphic was correct. WWE has on its shows in the past listed comparisons with not just UFC, but other sports leagues as well, in areas they look good in.
Tryouts have already been held for season 17 that would air in the spring, but it is clear that even ardent UFC fans no longer treat the reality show that built the sport as destination viewing. At one point earlier this year, Dana White said that if the ratings didn't improve this season, that FX promised him they would move the show to a better night. That becomes an issue because FX is one of the higher rated cable networks and its programming on other nights draws considerably more viewers than what Ultimate Fighter does. However, the numbers Ultimate Fighter did on Spike were larger than FX's average prime time program.
The other UFC televised event this week, the Saturday Fuel show, did teach a lesson. The live show from 4-7 p.m. Eastern time, out of prime time because the show took place in Nottingham, England, did 111,000 viewers and a 0.25 rating. However, a replay of the show that aired from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time (and 7-10 p.m. on the West Coast, where UFC is most popular), did a 0.29 rating and 140,000 viewers.
As a comparison, the prior Fuel event, on July 11, which aired in prime time on the East Coast and at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday on the West Coast, did 211,000 viewers, and was the second most watched television show in the history of Fuel.
For all the talk of Internet and social media and how sports have to air live, what this said is more viewers would rather watch the show at a more convenient time then watch it live. During the days on Spike, the strategy was to air the shows on a tape delay in prime time to maximize viewership and ratings. Some complained that made the events seem secondary, since major sports events usually air live. Yet, there is almost nothing bigger than the Olympics, which did monster prime time ratings this year with it being almost exclusively events taped hours earlier where results were easily available ahead of air time.
There was no evidence in the Spike days that a tape delayed show from Europe did any worse in the ratings on a Saturday night than a live show from the U.S. In fact, the largest live event audience Spike ever had was for a show headlined by Dan Henderson vs. Rampage Jackson that aired on a several hour tape delay.
Bellator on Friday night did a 0.2 rating and 190,000 viewers for its season opener, the first round of a welterweight tournament. That's up from the 170,000 viewers that the last season opener did in March in the same time slot.
Bellator and Ultimate Fighter go head-to-head most Friday nights for a brief period of time, depending on the length of the Bellator live show.
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