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Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Rebounds in Week Three Ratings
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

After an alarming ratings drop the previous week, The Ultimate Fighter 3 rebounded to a strong 1.9 overall rating with its third episode on April 20th. The show had previously drawn a 2.0 rating in its season premiere, and then fell off drastically to an overall rating of 1.3 for Episode Two. The increase to 1.9 for Episode Three must come as a huge sigh of relief to Zuffa and Spike TV just one week after the biggest week-to-week ratings drop-off in the history of the series.

In the key demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males, Episode Three drew a 3.0 rating, which is a big improvement from the 2.3 rating that Episode Two drew in that demographic. However, it still falls far short of the 3.7 rating that the show's season premiere drew in that demographic.

One Big Reason for the Ratings Increase: Boosts from Specific Age Groups
When a TV show's ratings go down gradually over time, the reasons are usually fairly simple. People tend to lose interest in TV series as time passes, or they get turned off by certain things in the series and don't want to watch it anymore. It is much less common for a TV show's ratings to go down drastically one week and then go back up drastically the next week.

In examining why the ratings for Episode Three rebounded in such a manner, one of the first things to jump out is the fact that the show's ratings in two specific age demographics went up in Episode Three, to the point that they were actually higher than Episode One's ratings in the same demographics.

In the 35-to-49-year-old male demographic, Episode One drew a 1.7 rating, Episode Two was down to a 1.1 rating, and Episode Three was up to a season-high 2.0 rating.

Similarly, in the 18-to-24-year-old male demographic, Episode One drew a 1.9 rating, Episode Two was down to a 1.7 rating, and Episode Three was up to a season-high 2.3 rating.

If it weren't for these two specific age groups, the overall rating for Episode Three would not have been much higher than the disappointing rating that was drawn by Episode Two. It was these two specific demographics that figuratively carried the show on their back to bring the overall rating back up to the high 1s.

In the specific age group that has supported UFC programming on Spike TV more than any other age group, which is 25-to-34-year-old males, the ratings for Episode Three are still nowhere near what they were for Episode One. Episode Three drew a 3.4 rating in that demographic, which is still far short of the record-breaking 5.0 rating that Episode One drew in that demo.

Another Reason for the Increase: Huge Lead-In Rating for Royce Gracie Retrospective
The most simple and direct reason for Episode Three's ratings increase is the fact that the most recent episode of UFC Unleashed gave TUF a much bigger lead-in audience than it had the week before. The April 20th episode of UFC Unleashed, which was a look back at the career of Royce Gracie, drew an overall rating of 1.4, which is huge for UFC Unleashed and may very well be a testament to the drawing power of Royce Gracie.

To put into perspective how big of a deal it is for UFC Unleashed to have drawn a 1.4 overall rating, that actually equals the 1.4 overall rating that The Ultimate Fighter 2 averaged over the course of its twelve-episode run. An overall rating of 1.4 is actually higher than the 1.3 overall rating that TUF 3 drew with its second episode. An overall rating of 1.4 is barely lower than the 1.6 overall rating that the UFC drew with a two-hour live fight special on April 6th.

It's a little bit crazy for hour-long retrospective shows to be drawing ratings similar to those drawn by first-run TUF episodes or even live UFC fight broadcasts. The apparent TV viewer interest in Royce Gracie has to be seen as a positive by Zuffa when it comes to what kind of PPV buy-rate UFC 60 is going to draw, especially since ticket sales for the event have been slow (at least compared to the last several UFC PPV events).

Positive or Negative Word of Mouth, and Audience Growth Throughout Episode Three
Unlike the first two episodes of TUF 3, the third episode showed significant growth in its ratings throughout the episode. Episode One back on April 6th remained steady in its ratings throughout the 90-minute broadcast, with quarter-hour ratings of 1.9 or 2.0 for all six quarter-hours. Episode Two only had mild growth in its audience as the show went on, with a 1.2 overall rating for the first half-hour and a 1.4 overall rating for the second half-hour.

On the other hand, the ratings for Episode Three went up significantly as the show went on, with the first 15 minutes drawing a 1.6 rating, the second quarter-hour drawing a 1.7 rating, the third quarter-hour drawing a 2.0 rating, and the final 15 minutes of the show drawing a 2.3 rating. This is most likely due to the fact that the scheduled fight was established early in the episode, and the rest of the episode was focused on building towards that fight.

The vast majority of the people who were watching at 10:00 PM stuck around for the entire episode, and when you combine that with the fact that new viewers are typically tuning in at various times throughout any given episode of a TV show, that's what leads to the aforementioned quarter-hour ratings growth during the course of an episode.

However, even with the audience growth during the course of Episode Three, it is still the case for this series (and the vast majority of TV series) that the buzz from episode to episode actually centers on the previous episode of the series. This is a notion that holds up when one examines the week-to-week ratings changes during the first two seasons of TUF.

If a significant percentage of the people who watched Episode One of TUF 3 were disappointed with what they saw, that would likely not be reflected in the ratings for the first episode. It would be far more likely to be reflected in the ratings for the following week's episode, since the people who were disappointed by the first episode would be far less likely to tune in for Episode Two.

On the same token, if the people who watched Episode Two liked what they saw for the most part, that would probably not be reflected in the ratings of Episode Two. It would be far more likely to be reflected in the ratings for the following week's episode, as the people who enjoyed the show talk about it at the proverbial water-cooler the next day (or the next week), and positive word of mouth spreads in the days leading up to the debut of the next episode.

With that in mind, it has to be considered a strong possibility that many of the people who watched Episode One of this season were disappointed with what they saw (perhaps by the drunkenness of what is supposed to be a group of professional athletes, or perhaps by the first episode's constant refrain of, "Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock really, really hate each other! No, I mean it! They really do!" or perhaps by any number of other factors), and therefore many of those people didn't come back to watch Episode Two.

It also has to be considered a strong possibility that many of the people who watched Episode Two liked what they saw enough to tell their friends or co-workers about it in the subsequent days, and many of those friends and co-workers tuned in to see part or all of Episode Three.

As with any episode of TUF or any television series in general, the ratings for Episode Four of this season of TUF will be determined in part by which group of people is greater in size--- the group that was disappointed enough in Episode Three to have lost some or all of their interest in the series, or the group that enjoyed Episode Three enough to talk about the show with their friends or co-workers.

Network TV Competition Not Likely to Have Stolen Many Viewers from TUF's Third Episode
Episode Three of TUF 3 went head-to-head with a fairly weak night of network TV competition. In the 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM hour on April 20th, CBS' Without a Trace led the way with an overall rating of 11.5, which is much lower than usual due to the fact that the show's CSI lead-in was a repeat.

ABC's Commander in Chief continued to struggle on its road towards a possible cancellation with an overall rating of just 5.2, which is down drastically from the 10+ overall ratings that the show was drawing in its first several weeks on the air. Finally, a repeat of ER on NBC drew an overall rating of just 4.3, which is less than half of what ER normally draws with its new episodes (ER repeats generally don't hold up well in the ratings).

Either side of the argument could easily be made on whether the network TV competition has any significant effect on TUF's ratings. It's true that TUF draws from different viewer demographics than Without a Trace or Commander in Chief, but TUF certainly does draw from many of the same age demographics as ER. ER is supported primarily by 18-to-49-year-old viewers, which is also the general age demographic that Spike TV targets with The Ultimate Fighter.

The pro wrestling show TNA Impact, which airs Thursday nights at 11:00 PM on Spike TV and is now relying on TUF to provide it with a big lead-in audience, drew an overall rating of 0.9 on April 20th, which was down from the April 13th episode's overall rating of 1.1.

While TNA certainly can't put on the kind of risky, high-impact match every week that they had at the beginning of the April 13th show, the April 20th rating still has to be considered hugely disappointing for TNA because its lead-in audience was actually much bigger on April 20th. In just one week, TNA Impact went from retaining a strong 85% of TUF's overall rating (1.1 compared to TUF's 1.3), to retaining just 47% of TUF's overall rating (0.9 compared to TUF's 1.9).

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