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Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ratings for The Ultimate Fighter Continue on Downward Trend
The ninth episode of The Ultimate Fighter 2 drew an overall rating of just 1.1 this past Monday night, marking the third consecutive week in which the show has recorded its lowest ratings in the history of the series.

In its first week without WWE Raw as a lead-in on October 3rd, The Ultimate Fighter drew a series-low rating of 1.3. This was followed by last week's 1.2 overall rating, and the downward trend has continued with this week's 1.1 rating.

During the first season of TUF, Week Nine experienced a bit of a lull with a 1.5 overall rating, which was down from the series-high of 2.0 a few weeks earlier. This just serves to demonstrate how much things have changed, as Spike TV and Zuffa would love to have a 1.5 rating right now.

What Is Cause for Concern and What Isn't?
In the big picture through nine weeks, the ratings are not down by a drastic amount from the first season. The first season averaged a 1.6 rating through its first nine episodes, and the second season has averaged a 1.4 rating through its first nine episodes. In and of itself, that is not a major problem.

What is a major problem is the huge downward trend in the ratings as the second season has progressed, which has been accelerated by the addition of Monday Night Football as head-to-head competition, and by the absence of WWE Raw as a lead-in.

With nine episodes of this season having aired thus far, it's very interesting if you break it down into three separate blocks of three episodes. The first set of three episodes averaged a 1.7 overall rating, the second set of three episodes averaged a 1.4 overall rating, and the most recent set of three episodes averaged an overall rating of just 1.2. That is a scary downward trend that should be a cause of major concern for Spike TV and Zuffa.

In the short term, this doesn't cost Spike TV or Zuffa a penny because advertisers were not promised anything more than a 1.0 rating in their contracts for Season Two. However, if the ratings continue their downward trend (or stay in the low 1's), you can rest assured that the third season of The Ultimate Fighter will generate significantly less advertising revenue than the second season.

Commercials for the second season were sold at a fairly high price, and rightfully so given the fact that the show had averaged a 1.6 overall rating in its first season, and subsequently drew a 1.9 rating for its live season finale. If Season Two is not able to replicate that success in the next few weeks (which would take a minor miracle at this point), ad rates will go down considerably for Season Three.

Once again, anything at or above the 1.0 mark is a big hit on cable television, as evidenced most recently by Spike TV putting out a press release in which it touted the 0.8 ratings for the first three weeks of TNA Impact on Spike TV, but a 1.1 rating is still alarming for any show that had a first-season average of 1.6.

Sports Competition Explains Part of TUF's Ratings Decline, but Cannot Explain This Week's Decrease
Data from Neilsen Media Research shows that UFC programming on Spike TV draws heavily from the same crowd that watches other sports on television. The UFC skews much younger than the biggest sports, with its primary demographic being 18-to-34-year-old males, but in general the people who watch UFC programming on Spike TV are very likely to also be people who watch other sports on television.

While The Ultimate Fighter's disappointing rating last week (1.2) and even more disappointing rating this week (1.1) can be blamed in part on the fact that TUF has had to go head-to-head with both Monday Night Football and the Major League Baseball Playoffs, the decrease from last week to this week cannot be blamed on stiffer competition.

Last week, the Monday Night Football game on ABC drew a 9.5 overall rating, while the baseball playoff game on Fox drew an 8.0 overall rating. This week, the Monday Night Football game drew a 9.0 rating, while the baseball playoff game drew a 6.7 rating.

So, the combined audience that was watching sports on network television (and was thus much less likely to watch The Ultimate Fighter) was 17.5 last week, and was down to 15.7 this week.

At the same time, WWE Raw (which goes head-to-head with the beginning of TUF) was down from last week's 4.0 rating to a 3.7 rating. Despite the fact that TUF was facing significantly weaker competition this week, the overall rating for TUF still decreased from 1.2 last week to 1.1 this week.

In other network TV competition, NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno drew a 4.6 overall rating, while CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman drew a 3.7 overall rating.

On the same night (October 17th), another new episode of UFC Unleashed aired in its new timeslot of Monday at 10:00 PM. This week's episode drew an overall rating of 1.0, which was an improvement over last week's 0.9 rating. Any potential ratings growth for UFC Unleashed in the future will be severely limited for as long as the show continues to have an almost non-existent level of promotion on Spike TV.

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