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Friday, April 21, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- The Ultimate Fighter Suffers Largest Ratings Drop-Off in Series History
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The biggest week-to-week ratings drop-off in the history of The Ultimate Fighter took place this past week, as Episode Two of the third season drew an overall rating of just 1.3, down from the previous week's 2.0 rating.

Episode Two of TUF 3, which aired on April 13th, drew the fourth-lowest overall rating in series history (out of 26 original episodes aired), just one week after Episode One drew the third-highest rating in series history. The overall rating of 1.3 was still enough to beat TNT's Thursday night NBA Doubleheader, which averaged a 1.1 overall rating from 8:15 PM to 1:22 AM.

Compared to the same point in previous seasons, Episode Two of the first season drew a 1.4 overall rating, while Episode Two of the second season drew a 1.8 overall rating.

How This Ratings Drop-Off Compares to Previous Ratings Decreases
Unlike the third season, both of the first two seasons of TUF held up well from Episode One to Episode Two. The first season of TUF drew the same rating in both of its first two weeks (1.4 and 1.4), while the second season of TUF was up slightly from Episode One to Episode Two (from 1.7 up to 1.8).

On the contrary, the third season of The Ultimate Fighter drew a 2.0 rating in its first week and just 1.3 in its second week. The one-week drop-off of 0.7 is, by far, the largest in the history of the series for any episode airing on its original night. The series had previously never lost more than 0.3 from one week to the next.

The ratings drop-off was even more drastic in the advertiser-coveted demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males. The rating in that demographic went from 3.7 for Episode One down to 2.3 for Episode Two. The drop-off of 1.4 was the highest ever, as the series had previously never lost more than 0.5 from one week to the next in that demographic.

Series' Ratings History Does Not Explain the Fall-Off
One might have expected a mild ratings drop-off from Episode One to Episode Two, but nothing approaching this magnitude. It would seem to make sense on the surface that a huge drop-off should have been expected since the show would no longer have a live fight special as a lead-in, but that notion doesn't have any validity when you look at the actual ratings history of the series. The same goes for the notion that a big decrease in the audience of TUF's lead-in would have this much of a negative effect on the next week's ratings.

The season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter 3 had a live fight special as a lead-in, while Episode Two didn't. That alone should have accounted for some drop-off, but nothing close to the 0.7 drop-off that took place. In the second season of TUF, Episode Seven did have a live UFC fight special as a lead-in, and Episode Eight the next week did not. In that case, the overall rating went down 0.1 from week-to-week, not 0.7.

In general, having a weaker lead-in should also cause a slight ratings drop-off, but nothing this severe. When WWE Raw went back to USA Network, causing the second season of The Ultimate Fighter to have a severe decrease in what it was getting as a lead-in, TUF's ratings never went down this drastically.

On the final week in which WWE Raw served as TUF 2's lead-in, Raw drew a 3.2 overall rating and TUF 2 drew a 1.4 overall rating. The next week, TUF 2's lead-in was an Ultimate Fight Night special, which drew a 1.6 overall rating. Even though the rating of its lead-in show was down drastically from 3.2 to 1.6, TUF's overall rating only went down from 1.4 to 1.3.

In the case of TUF 3, the show didn't have to deal with anywhere near that big of a ratings decrease in its lead-in show. Leading into the show last week was a live fight special that drew a 1.6 overall rating, and leading into the show this week was an episode of UFC Unleashed that drew a 1.0 overall rating, so the decrease in the audience of the lead-in show was nothing compared to the one that was faced when WWE Raw moved to USA Network.

TNA Ratings, TUF's Quarter-Hour Ratings, and Where the Ratings Go from Here
The episode of the pro wrestling show "TNA Impact" that aired immediately after The Ultimate Fighter on April 13th drew an overall rating of 1.1, which is tied for the highest-rated episode in the short history of TNA Impact on Spike TV. However, TNA's 1.1 rating wasn't up all that much from the rating that was drawn by the final Saturday night original airing of TNA Impact (which was a 1.0 overall rating). This is believed to be largely because TNA's new lead-in (a new TUF episode) wasn't up more than a half of a ratings point from the average rating of its old lead-in (repeats of UFC Unleashed).

One encouraging sign for Zuffa and Spike (or at least it can be said that the opposite would have been very discouraging) is the fact that the ratings for Episode Two of TUF 3 did grow slightly as the episode went on. The first half of the episode drew a 1.2 rating (with quarter-hour ratings of 1.2 and 1.2), while the second half of the episode drew a 1.4 rating (with quarter-hours of 1.3 and 1.5). It's always an ominous sign when the opposite happens on any primetime TV show, and this is not happening with TUF thus far this season.

What this means is that even though there does appear to have been a huge decrease in the public's interest level in the show from Episode One to Episode Two, Spike and Zuffa can at least take solace in the fact that the people who did tune in for the second episode weren't so turned off by the episode that they tuned out in the middle of the episode. The problem is that so many of the people who watched Episode One didn't tune in for Episode Two at all.

Zuffa and Spike TV should certainly hope that Episode Two will end up being the low point of this season's ratings, because the show doesn't have very much more room to fall before it strays into "lowest in the history of the series" territory. The lowest rating that TUF has ever drawn on its normal night was a 1.1 overall rating for Episode Nine of the second season, which was the episode that featured the Rashad Evans vs. Mike Whitehead fight.

Only time will tell whether Episode Two of TUF 3 will be a one-week blip on the map, or the beginning of TUF becoming a series that consistently draws ratings in the low 1s. In the worst-case scenario, which would be that TUF only draws ratings of 1.3 or lower from here on out, it would be the lowest-rated season of TUF to date, which would be the opposite of what was expected because of the interaction between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.

Even in the aforementioned worst-case scenario, The Ultimate Fighter would still be likely to draw higher ratings than most NBA basketball games on ESPN or TNT. It would still be considered a "hit" by cable television ratings standards, but it would no longer be a "big hit," and that little distinction for any cable TV series makes a huge difference in terms of public awareness, media perception, and advertising revenue for future seasons.

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