Roughly one month into the fall season for the UFC's Ultimate Fighter reality show, and Bellator's Friday night live shows, a few patterns have been emerging.
For the Ultimate Fighter, there has been an up-and-down pattern in the ratings. As in, the week of a women's fight, the audience is up. The two women's fights, airing on Sept. 12 and Sept. 26, did 870,000 and 778,000 viewers live. The men's fights on Sept. 19 and Oct. 3 did 639,000 and 640,000.
While the live ratings are down with the move to Fox Sports 1, most weeks it has been the most watched sports event on television for the night, particularly in the target Male 18-49 demographic. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the ratings is, even though the show is replayed multiple times per week in prime time on the station, the DVR viewership of the initial Wednesday night broadcasts has been the big surprise.
Viewership has increased anywhere from 32 percent to 37 percent from the initial reports when you factor in people who watched the show via DVR between Thursday and Saturday. For example, the Sept. 26 show, the most recent to have DVR numbers for, did an additional 272,000 viewers of the initial airing, pushing total viewership to 1.05 million.
The Ultimate Fighter has always been a strong DVR property as compared to most sports programming, but the increases have historically only been in the 15 percent range.
The ratings are lower than in prior seasons, but the move from FX to Fox Sports 1 has to be taken into account. With the exception of some college football games and two UFC live events, The Ultimate Fighter is the most watched show since the station debuted. Besides being on an unfamiliar station, and in particular a station that draws far less women viewership than FX, Fox Sports 1 is also in 89 million homes as compared to 98 million for FX.
Whether women's coaches and women's fights could have led to increased female viewership of this season, it's on a sports station as opposed to a top-ten cable general programming station that attracts far more women viewers.
For Bellator, the Friday numbers are down from the first season on Spike. But they were not at the disastrous levels many had predicted for a night that had not done well for MMA programming in the past, including Ultimate Fighter on FX and Bellator previously on MTV 2. .
After the first three Friday nights, the show is averaging 670,000 viewers live. That's down 17 percent from what the show was averaging in its first season on Spike when it aired on Thursday nights after TNA Impact wrestling. However, the show has also routinely beat 300,000 viewers for immediate late Friday replays, and has hovered around 450,000 viewers for one hour edited versions of the show that air most weeks on Thursdays at 11 p.m. The show also does another consistent 60,000 viewers between Saturday and Monday nights watching via DVR.
Friday seems to be preferable to the traditional Saturday night that has been the big fight night since the beginning of time. The Sept. 7 show, the Saturday broadcast that started the season, did only 437,000 viewers. Over the summer, the final Wednesday night broadcast did 679,000 viewers, roughly the same as Friday is doing. But the final Wednesday show was probably the most loaded show in company history with two championship bouts featuring Michael Chandler and Ben Askren, as well as two tournament finals, one of which featured King Mo Lawal.
While Spike is a stronger channel, and is in more homes than FS 1, the ratings for the Friday night fights aren't too far off what several of the episodes of the Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin Ultimate Fighter season did on Friday's on FX in the fall of 2012.