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Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- In-Depth Look at Ortiz-Shamrock Hype and TUF 3 Ratings
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

As the promotional build-up for the Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock fight begins to overlap with the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, ratings for the show have remained strong and are likely to increase in the coming weeks as the Ortiz-Shamrock dynamic continues to play out.

Episode Five of TUF 3, debuting on May 4th, drew an overall rating of 1.7, which was up slightly from Episode Four's overall rating of 1.6. The show also drew an excellent rating of 3.1 in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic for the second consecutive week.

Comparisons to the First Two Seasons; and Do Middleweights Draw Higher Ratings than Light-Heavyweights?
Through five episodes, TUF 3 is averaging a 1.7 overall rating. At the same point in the previous two seasons, TUF 1 was averaging a 1.5 overall rating, and TUF 2 was averaging a 1.6 overall rating.

The specific rating for Episode Five of this season also compares favorably to previous seasons. The fifth episode of TUF 2 drew a 1.5 overall rating (and that was actually the final week that a regular episode of TUF 2 ever drew a rating higher than 1.4).

The fifth episode of TUF 1 drew a 1.7 overall rating, just like the fifth episode of TUF 3, but there's simply no contest in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male demographic. TUF 3 blows away TUF 1 in that demographic, as the fifth episode of this season drew a 3.1 rating in that demo, compared to a 2.0 rating in the same demo for Episode Five of the first season. Even though overall viewership was virtually the same, viewership was much higher in the young male demographic, which puts more advertising dollars in the pockets of Spike TV and Zuffa.

In something that is probably just a coincidence at this point (although we'll find out over the course of the season), the TUF 3 fights that have drawn the highest ratings have all been middleweight fights. There have been two episodes thus far with light-heavyweights fights, and they have been the two lowest-rated episodes of the season. In addition, looking at the quarter-hour ratings for each specific fight, the two least-watched fights of this season thus far also happen to be the two light-heavyweight fights.

Huge Ratings Growth Over the Course of Last Week's Two-Hour UFC Block
On the surface, Episode Five's rating of 1.7 is not all that different from Episode Four's rating of 1.6. However, a much brighter picture is painted if you look more closely at the numbers, as there was remarkable ratings growth over the course of both UFC Unleashed and TUF on May 4th.

Kicking off the evening, the episode of UFC Unleashed that aired at 9:00 PM on May 4th drew an overall rating of 1.1. The previous week's episode of UFC Unleashed drew the same overall rating, but arrived at the number completely differently. The April 27th episode of Unleashed drew quarter-hour ratings of either 1.1 or 1.2 throughout the entire show. On the contrary, the May 4th episode grew drastically from a 0.9 rating in the first quarter-hour to a 1.4 rating in the final quarter-hour.

This ratings momentum continued for The Ultimate Fighter at 10:00 PM. The first 15 minutes of TUF drew a 1.5 rating on both April 27th and May 4th. The difference is that the ratings for the April 27th episode remained pretty flat throughout the episode, peaking with just a 1.8 rating in the final quarter-hour. On the other hand, viewership for the May 4th episode built as the show progressed, climaxing with a strong 2.1 rating for the final quarter-hour.

The quarter-hour rating of 2.1 for the match-up between Rory Singer and Solomon Hutcherson was the second highest-rated quarter-hour of the season, and that includes the 90-minute season premiere. The only quarter-hour in the entire season so far that drew a higher rating was the 2.3 rating that was drawn by the fight between Kendall Grove and Ross Pointon. Singer vs. Hutcherson was the first fight of the season to make it out of the first round.

TNA Ratings Remain Flat, Network TV Provides TUF with Less Competition than Expected
Unfortunately for TNA, the company that puts on the "TNA Impact" pro wrestling shows that follow The Ultimate Fighter at 11:00 PM, the ratings momentum ended at 11:00 PM on Thursday night. The first quarter-hour of TNA Impact drew a 1.1 rating, and that rating slipped throughout the show until it was just 0.8 for the final 15 minutes of the broadcast. Overall, TNA Impact drew a solid-but-unspectacular overall rating of 0.9 for the third consecutive week.

The Ultimate Fighter had to go head-to-head with the major broadcast networks' May sweeps line-ups for the first time on May 4th, but the major networks' ratings were actually slightly lower than usual instead of being higher. A new episode of "Without a Trace" on CBS drew a 12.8 overall rating, demolishing "ER" on NBC, which drew a 7.9 overall rating. The ratings gap between Without a Trace and ER continues to grow wider at an alarming rate, almost to the point that ER might be moved to a less competitive timeslot next season (even though that would be seen as an admission of defeat by NBC).

One broadcast network that didn't provide TUF with any significant competition on May 4th was ABC. The episode of "Commander in Chief" that ABC was scheduled to air on May 4th was abruptly pulled from the schedule, along with all previously scheduled airings of Commander in Chief, due to the increasingly poor ratings that the series has been drawing.

When a network pulls a TV show so that it doesn't drag down the network's May sweeps averages, it's usually a solid indication that the show is as good as dead. The episode of the newsmagazine "Primetime" that aired instead at 10:00 PM didn't do any better, as it drew a 3.8 overall rating. There is almost no chance that Commander in Chief will be renewed for a second season. The remaining unaired episodes (there are three of them) are expected to be burned off in June in a timeslot to be determined.

Ortiz-Shamrock Hype Likely to Increase TUF's Ratings in Coming Weeks
In addition to the weaker than usual head-to-head competition from network television, one of the reasons that TUF 3's ratings grew so much over the course of Episode Five is very likely that the Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock pull-apart was "buzzworthy" enough for a lot of viewers to call or IM some of their friends, who then tuned into the show themselves. This is likely to also increase the ratings of future episodes of TUF 3, even though it may (or may not) be damaging the sport's credibility in the process.

The purpose of having Ortiz and Shamrock serve as the coaches this season in the first place was not only to sell a PPV fight between the two of them, but also to make for some compelling television with plenty of conflict for the TV cameras.

During the second half of TUF 2's season when the ratings were collapsing, a source at Spike TV told MMAWeekly that he believed one of the biggest reasons for the collapse was that there wasn't enough conflict between coaches Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin, who are friends in real life. Casting Ortiz and Shamrock as the Season Three coaches was seen from the very beginning as something that would be very likely to produce dramatic scenes for television. As much as Zuffa has always hated any comparisons to pro wrestling, the UFC is becoming more and more like pro wrestling in terms of how UFC fights are promoted.

Along those same lines, the Wrestling Observer reported while TUF 3 was still filming that virtually everyone involved with the creation of the show was "thrilled" with how the Ortiz-Shamrock was playing out. The Observer subsequently reported at the end of the season that Zuffa "got exactly what it expected" from Ortiz and Shamrock, and further wrote that Ortiz and Shamrock knew that their job going into the season was, in large part, to generate strong hype for their PPV fight.

From a marketing perspective, this was apparent from the moment that Ortiz and Shamrock were announced as the coaches for TUF 3 during the UFC 56 pay-per-view. They acted like they could barely stand in the same ring (or cage) together without coming to blows. Later, when the TUF 3 marketing campaign hit the airwaves in order to build interest in the season before it premiered, what was the focal point of the commercials? The pull-apart scenario that just aired on Episode Five.

Now, does all of this mean that every little detail of the Ortiz-Shamrock pull-apart was fake? Absolutely not. But did Ortiz and Shamrock embellish for the cameras over the course of the season and exaggerate the real-life dislike that they do have for each other, in order to generate interest in their feud, draw higher ratings for TUF, and draw a higher PPV buyrate for their own fight? You would have to be very naive to think that the answer to that question is "no."

It's not like Ortiz and Shamrock would be doing it purely out of the goodness of their hearts in order to help the UFC draw stronger ratings for TUF 3. Ortiz and Shamrock are both set to receive a bonus for all PPV buys over a certain amount for their fight at UFC 61, which gives both of them the direct financial incentive to do everything in their power to generate as much interest as possible in their feud.

Ortiz and Shamrock are certainly not going to be on each other's Christmas card lists, but they don't hate each other quite as much as you've been led to believe during this season of TUF. In early 2005 when a possible Ortiz-Shamrock fight was in the works (Shamrock vs. Rich Franklin ended up happening instead because of a contract dispute between Ortiz and Zuffa), the Wrestling Observer reported that the extent of the real-life "hatred" between Ortiz and Shamrock was that Shamrock has a temper, Ortiz legitimately enjoys pushing Shamrock's buttons, and as a result Ortiz does legitimately get under Shamrock's skin at times. They're far from friends, but also far from the "hating each other with every fiber of their being" scenario that has been presented to viewers of TUF 3.

Again, the chances are almost zero that Ortiz and Shamrock ever got together and said anything resembling, "I'll do this, and then you do this, and then I'll do this." But for both of them to decide individually that they should embellish and play up their dislike for each other as much as possible during the course of TUF 3 was almost a given heading into the season, and it played out largely as expected.

This benefits the UFC directly by leading to higher ratings for TUF 3, which leads to higher advertising rates for TUF 4 and beyond; and it benefits Ortiz and Shamrock directly by building interest for their PPV fight, which leads to bigger PPV bonus checks for Ortiz and Shamrock.

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