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Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Rating Jumps Back Up to 1.9
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Episode Seven of The Ultimate Fighter 3, which debuted on May 18th, drew an excellent overall rating of 1.9. The episode is tied for fifth on the list of the all-time most-watched episodes in TUF history, not counting the live season finale fight cards. The rating of 1.9 was an improvement over the previous week's overall rating of 1.7.

In the key demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males, Episode Six had fallen to a 2.4 rating, but Episode Seven was back up to a 2.9 rating in that demo. Granted, 2.9 doesn't approach the season premiere's 3.7 rating in that demo, but it's still an excellent number, and the influx of young male viewers were a likely contributing factor to the higher overall rating.

Compared to the same point in previous seasons, Episode Seven's 1.9 overall rating fares well. Episode Seven of the first season of TUF, featuring Stephan Bonnar's win over Bobby Southworth, drew a 1.7 overall rating. Episode Seven of the second season, featuring Seth Petruzelli's win over Dan Christison, drew a 1.3 overall rating.

Ratings Growth Comes Back on Episode That Actually Features a Fight
The lesson from the past few weeks of TUF ratings should be very clear to the editors who will have the job of taking hundreds of hours of footage per season and piecing it together to form 12 one-hour episodes per season TUF 4, TUF 5, TUF 6, and TUF 7.

In terms of when they tuned in and when they didn't tune in, the American public spoke very clearly on this subject. Episode Five of TUF 3, with the well-developed Rory Singer vs. Solomon Hutcherson fight, had huge audience growth over the course of the hour. The quarter-hour ratings grew throughout the show, from a 1.5 rating in the first 15 minutes of the show, to a 2.1 rating for the actual fight between Singer and Hutcherson.

Episode Six, with a lot of drama and no fights, started off with the same 1.5 quarter-hour rating, but was never able to grow to anything higher than a 1.7 quarter-hour rating. There was plenty of drama as Ken Shamrock had a heated argument with Tait Fletcher, and Noah Inhofer quit the show, but by and large, the public wasn't chomping at the bit to see how it would all play out at the end of the episode. If anything, some viewers tuned out when they realized that there wasn't going to be a fight on the episode. The editors of TUF could have easily pieced together the season differently so that there wouldn't have been any fight-free episodes, but they chose not to.

In Episode Seven, with Tait Fletcher vs. Josh Haynes taking place in the latter half of the episode, the ratings growth was back in full force. The show started off with a 1.8 rating for its first half-hour, and then drew quarter-hour ratings of 2.0 and 2.1 in the final 30 minutes. This makes Haynes vs. Fletcher the second most watched fight of the season, tied with Singer vs. Hutcherson. The most-watched fight so far this season has been Kendall Grove vs. Ross Pointon, which drew a 2.3 quarter-hour rating.

When you don't have a fight on a particular episode and the audience growth during the airing of that episode almost completely disappears, and then the ratings growth comes back on the next episode when it does feature a fight, it would be pretty difficult for TUF's producers and editors to come to any conclusion other than, "We need to edit things in such a way that there is a fight on every episode in future seasons of TUF."

These numbers and trends also send the message that it's still ultimately about the fights to the majority of the viewing audience. The drama and the character development are great for building the fights, but it's still the fights themselves that are the meal ticket at the end of the day.

This fact might actually be a good thing for the UFC in the long run because if the fans want to see actual fights above all else, they'll have to buy the pay-per-view events to see the biggest fights, and the PPVs cost 40 bucks per event. That's the whole point of having a TV presence in the first place: To build up interest in the PPV events.

TUF's Lead-In Makes a Huge Difference
This week's ratings provide more evidence than ever that the increases and decreases in the UFC-related TUF lead-ins have a huge impact on the ratings that TUF draws on any given week. There is a direct correlation every single week so far this season between the lead-in rating and TUF's rating.

-The season premiere of TUF 3, with a new Ultimate Fight Night special providing a strong lead-in audience, drew a record-tying 2.0 overall rating.

-The next week, with UFC Unleashed providing a much weaker lead-in of 1.0, TUF's audience was down significantly to a 1.3 overall rating.

-With a special Royce Gracie episode of UFC Unleashed drawing a significantly higher 1.4 overall rating, TUF 3 was back up to 1.9 in its third episode.

-Over the next three weeks, UFC Unleashed's ratings were steady, but unspectacular, with three consecutive weeks of 1.1 overall ratings. In the same three-week period, TUF draw overall ratings of 1.6, 1.7, and 1.7.

-On the most recent Thursday, with UFC Unleashed drawing a stronger-than-usual 1.3 overall rating, TUF was back up to 1.9.

While it wouldn't be accurate to say that a great rating for the UFC Unleashed lead-in automatically guarantees a great rating for TUF, or that a bad rating for UFC Unleashed automatically guarantees a bad rating for TUF, it also can't be denied that the ebb and flow of UFC Unleashed's ratings has directly lined up every single week with the ebb and flow of TUF's ratings.

Is it the sole reason for TUF's increases and decreases in viewership? Of course not, but it's certainly playing a very significant role.

That's It? Jesse Forbes Just Cruises Into the Semi-Finals?
That is the question that many viewers were asking themselves when it was hastily announced (and then never mentioned again, so as to avoid drawing too much attention to it) that Jesse Forbes wasn't just returning to the show; he was also getting a bye into the light-heavyweight semi-finals. One has to wonder exactly how much thought was put into this decision by the producers, because it only takes a few minutes of rational thought to come up with a better solution.

As I wrote last week in a TUF editorial, there were a few different ways to approach the subject of who, if anyone, would get a bye into the semi-finals as a result of Noah Inhofer's decision to quit the show. Jesse Forbes simply walking into the semi-finals with a record of 0-1 on the show was the worst possible decision, and is unfair to several of the other fighters. To be clear, this is not Jesse Forbes' fault. It's the fault of whoever made the decision to give him the bye into the semi-finals.

It's not rocket science, or overly complicated, or psycho-analyzing the show to say that maybe the producers should have had Jesse Forbes fight the loser of the Haynes vs. Fletcher fight. The winner of that fight would then advance into the semi-finals along with Michael Bisping, Josh Haynes, and the winner of the upcoming Matt Hamill vs. Mike Nickels fight. Even if Tait Fletcher had lost decisively to Josh Haynes in the first round, having a Forbes vs. Fletcher fight would have still been the most fair solution because it would mean that nobody would get a bye.

The fact that Fletcher lost a close, controversial judges' decision only makes it more of a glaring oversight than it otherwise would have been. With a Forbes vs. Fletcher fight, you'd be putting a fighter into the semi-finals with a record of 1-1, instead of putting someone in who is 0-1.

It's not fair to Michael Bisping or Josh Haynes, both of whom earned their way into the semi-finals by winning a fight, that someone with a record of 0-1 on the show is just as much "in the semi-finals" as they are. It's not fair to Matt Hamill or Mike Nickels that one of them will be going home with a record of 0-1 instead of going to the semi-finals with a record of 0-1. And of course, it's not fair to Tait Fletcher that he's going home after losing a close, controversial decision, while Jesse Forbes is going to the semi-finals after getting tapped out in the first round.

Again, this situation is not Jesse Forbes' fault. All he did was come back when he was called upon to do so, and say "Okay" when he was told that he was getting a bye into the semi-finals. Any other fighter would have done the same thing, and you can't blame him for that. The blame goes to whoever made the decision to give Forbes the bye, because thinking about it for five minutes could have easily prevented such a situation from playing out like this.

Other Thursday Night Ratings
The Thursday, May 18th episode of The Ultimate Fighter 3 had to go head-to-head with the final Thursday night of May sweeps from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM. The season finale of Without a Trace on CBS drew a strong 12.8 overall rating, while the gun-slinging season finale of ER on NBC drew a 10.8 overall rating on NBC. That's the closest ER has come to beating Without a Trace's overall viewership in months. Coming in a distant third place was ABC with a 4.1 overall rating for its newsmagazine, Primetime.

It's actually somewhat impressive that UFC Unleashed drew a higher rating on May 18th than it did on May 11th (1.3 vs. 1.1), given the much stiffer competition that it faced on May 18th, which was the final Thursday of the 2005-2006 television season. Airing from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM, UFC Unleashed went head-to-head with the season finale of CBS' CSI (15.7 overall rating), the one-hour series finale of NBC's Will & Grace (11.6 overall rating), the season finale of ABC's American Inventor (4.2 overall rating), and the season finale of Fox's The OC (3.9 overall rating).

Leading out of TUF 3 on Spike TV last week was the pro wrestling show TNA Impact, which continued to show some signs of ratings momentum. After drawing overall ratings of 0.9 and 1.0 on the previous two Thursday nights, last Thursday's episode of Impact increased further to a 1.1 overall rating.

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