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Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- After a long break, Ivan's Blog is back and we're kicking things off with a detailed breakdown of the ratings for The Ultimate Fighter 3's season premiere.

Ultimate Fighter Ratings Off to a Strong Start
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The third season of The Ultimate Fighter drew excellent ratings in its first week, breaking records in more than one key demographic and giving the series a tangible sense of momentum. The 90-minute season premiere, which was helped by having a live UFC fight special as its lead-in, drew an overall rating of 2.0 in a very competitive Thursday night timeslot.

The overall rating of 2.0 marks the third time in series history that the show has drawn a 2.0 rating as part of its 12-episode regular season. Taken down to the hundredth of a ratings point, this week's episode and its 1.95 overall rating fell just short of the two highest-rated episodes in series history. Episode Six of the first season (headlined by Josh Koscheck vs. Chris Leben) drew an overall rating of 2.03, while Episode Eleven of the first season (headlined by Diego Sanchez vs. Koscheck) drew an overall rating of 1.99.

Ratings in Specific Demographics; and Tough Competition on Thursday Nights
In the advertiser-coveted demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males, the TUF 3 premiere drew a 3.7 rating, which is the highest rating that a regular-season episode of TUF has ever drawn in that demographic. The previous high in that demographic for a single episode of TUF was a 3.0 rating, which was drawn by the episode of TUF 2 that featured Luke Cummo vs. Sam Morgan. If the rating can stay at or near its current level in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, the series would be considered nothing less than a smash hit, and there would be even more advertising revenue pouring in for Spike TV and Zuffa in the future.

The specific demographic that watched the show in the largest numbers was 25-to-34-year-old males, which has been the case more often than not throughout the series' history. In that demographic, the show drew an insanely high 5.0 rating. In the broader 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, the show drew a 2.7 rating, beating out the previous series high of 2.5 set by the Sanchez vs. Koscheck episode from Season One.

As was the case with the first two seasons, the vast majority of the show's viewers are male. The rating for 18-to-49-year-old viewers in general, which counts both males and females, was only 1.7. The smaller amount of female viewers is not considered a problem since the commercials are being sold to advertisers who are specifically targeting male viewers.

The season premiere of TUF was able to draw strong ratings despite facing stiff network TV competition, at least in the first 60 minutes of the broadcast. From 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Thursday night, a new episode of "Without a Trace" on CBS drew a 10.5 overall rating, while a repeat of "ER" on NBC drew an overall rating of 6.1, and the ABC newsmagazine "Primetime" drew a 5.6 rating.

Thursday is the most lucrative night of the week for advertising revenue on television, making it well worth Spike TV's while to put The Ultimate Fighter up against such strong network competition. The Ultimate Fight Night special that preceded TUF 3 drew an overall rating of 1.6, and we will have a separate article about UFN's ratings in the coming days.

Reasons for the High Ratings, including the Shamrock-Ortiz Dynamic
Besides the obvious benefit of having a new Ultimate Fight Night as its lead-in, other factors that are likely to have contributed to TUF 3's strong ratings performance are the fact that there was actually a fight on the season premiere this time, and of course the dynamic between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.

It was the actual fights that had the biggest influence on TUF's ratings through its first two seasons, and neither of the first two seasons had any fights in their season premieres. The first fight during TUF 1 actually didn't take place until Episode 3. The producers of the show wisely decided to have the first fight between the contestants in Episode One this time around, which assuredly had some positive effect on the ratings.

As for the Shamrock-Ortiz dynamic, the advertising for the season premiere was built around the hatred between the two of them, and even showed a pull-apart brawl between Shamrock and Ortiz (presumably from a future episode) as a focal point of the advertising.

The Wrestling Observer reported during the latter stages of TUF 3's filming that according to sources close to the show, the Shamrock-Ortiz dynamic was "everything that had been hoped for and expected" by the show's producers and by Zuffa. It's not too difficult to figure out what they "hoped for and expected" when a big pull-apart brawl is subsequently made one of the focal points of the advertising for the season. This would certainly appear to make the Episode One scene in which Shamrock and Ortiz were warned that they weren't to get into any scuffles about as insincere and disingenuous as it could possibly be.

Future Outlook for TUF 3 Ratings
Starting with Episode Two, The Ultimate Fighter will be to another young TV franchise what WWE Raw once was to The Ultimate Fighter. The pro wrestling show TNA Impact will premiere its new weekly episodes on Thursday nights at 11:00 PM on Spike TV starting on April 13th. Impact will be relying on TUF to provide it with a strong lead-in, just as TUF relied on WWE Raw for a strong lead-in through its first one-and-a-half seasons. This will be a crucial test for both the UFC and TNA because while an original series that draws strong ratings is valuable, an original series that draws strong ratings and also helps create new hits in its wake is extremely valuable.

The biggest question concerning TUF 3's ratings from this point forward will be whether the show is able to build momentum throughout the season, or whether interest in the series will diminish as the season progresses. The ratings for TUF 1 increased as the season unfolded, while the ratings for TUF 2 fell off rather drastically as the season went on, never once drawing an overall rating higher than 1.4 after Episode Five. Though it's off to a fantastic start, the success of TUF 3 will ultimately be judged on how its ratings hold up over the course of the season. We'll continue to keep you updated on TUF 3's ratings throughout the season.

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