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Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fight Night 5 Ratings, Behind the Scenes on UFN's Live TV Production
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The fifth edition of the UFC's Ultimate Fight Night, which aired on Spike TV on June 28th, drew the lowest overall rating of any UFN special to date, but the show still accomplished its goal of providing a strong lead-in for the premiere of Blade: The Series.

Taken on its own, without taking Blade into account, UFN 5 would be viewed as a big disappointment. The show drew an overall rating of 1.4, which is lower than the previous series low of 1.5 that was drawn by UFN 1 in August 2005. The rating of 2.3 among 18-to-34-year-old males is tied for the second-lowest in UFN history, ahead of only UFN 1. The rating of 1.9 among 18-to-49-year-old males is also tied for the second-lowest in UFN history, once again ahead of only UFN 1.

Ultimate Fight Night 5 was hyped heavily during the live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 3 four days earlier, but it didn't come close to the TUF 3 finale's numbers. There's no way that it could have matched the ratings of the TUF 3 finale, but it could have come a lot closer than it did.

The TUF 3 finale drew a 2.0 overall rating, compared to 1.4 for UFN. Also, the TUF 3 finale drew a 3.8 rating among 18-to-34-year-old males, compared to 2.3 for UFN. Finally, the TUF 3 finale drew a 2.9 rating among 18-to-49-year-old males, compared to 1.9 for UFN.

UFN Still Boosts the Premiere of Blade: The Series
In the bigger picture, UFN 5 was still a ratings success because it helped to successfully launch Blade: The Series. The whole reason that a live fight special was ordered for June 28th in the first place was to help launch Blade: The Series. There is nothing other than ad money and paid product placement to justify having a UFC live fight special just four days after another UFC live fight special on Spike TV, and on a Wednesday night, and in a timeslot that didn't directly benefit the UFC (ie, it wasn't the lead-in show for a new season of TUF).

The two-hour series premiere of Blade: The Series drew an excellent overall rating of 2.0, with a 2.1 rating for the first hour and a 1.9 rating for the second hour. Since Blade drew a higher rating than its Ultimate Fight Night lead-in, it's clear that a lot of Blade's viewers came to the table on their own, but a significant percentage of Blade's rating can also be attributed to the UFN lead-in.

The fact that Blade: The Series was coming up next was mentioned literally several dozen times during the two-hour UFN broadcast, which was not a surprise because, again, this particular edition of UFN was ordered specifically to boost Blade.

The Saturday, June 24th airing of TUF 3's live season finale and the Wednesday, June 28th airing of Blade's series premiere were both heavily hyped events on Spike TV, with Spike putting lots of marketing dollars into hyping up both events. While both shows drew 2.0 overall ratings, it was the TUF 3 finale that performed better in the most advertiser-coveted demographics.

In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, Blade: The Series drew an excellent 2.6 rating, but that's still nowhere near the TUF 3 finale's monster 3.8 rating in that demographic. In the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, Blade: The Series drew a strong 2.2 rating, which also doesn't come close to the TUF 3 finale's 2.9 rating in that demo.

Behind the Scenes on the Live TV Production of Ultimate Fight Night
It would be an understatement to say that it's a nerve-wracking experience to produce a live two-hour special as the lead-in to a major new series premiere when the live two-hour special consists of fights that aren't worked.

In the same situation with pro wrestling as a lead-in, while the wrestlers could always go long or planned spots could take longer than expected, you can generally control the length because it's a worked product. With the UFC, there's nothing worked about it other than the Ortiz-Shamrock pull-aparts, so it's a much harder product to control in terms of time management on live television. When all was said and done on June 28th, the producers failed to have Ultimate Fight Night go off the air at exactly 10:00 PM, but the off-air time of 10:03 PM wasn't too far off.

After five hours of UFC Unleashed repeats starting at 3:00 PM, UFN went on the air at 8:00 PM (all times are Eastern). The first fight of the evening, intended largely as a showcase fight for Jorge Gurgel of TUF 2 fame, began promptly at 8:06 PM and ended at 8:24 PM.

Due to the desire to fit four live fights into a two-hour TV broadcast (which consists of 32 minutes of commercials right off the bat), the decision was made ahead of time to not have post-fight interviews with any of the evening's losers, so there was no interview with Gurgel when he lost his fight. The Hominick-Gurgel fight drew a 1.2 overall rating.

There was a 15-minute gap between the end of the Hominick-Gurgel fight and the beginning of the Rashad Evans vs. Stephan Bonnar fight at 8:39 PM. Like the previous fight, Evans vs. Bonnar also went to the judges' decision after three rounds, so it didn't end until 8:56 PM. Evans vs. Bonnar drew an overall rating of 1.5, and as with the previous fight, there was no post-fight interview with Bonnar after he lost the fight.

At that point, the next scheduled fight was the "swing bout" between Luke Cummo and Jonathan Goulet, and the producers had a very tough decision to make. They already had commercial breaks, video packages, and Blade promo spots planned out for the next 15 minutes or so, and that would leave them with only 45 minutes left until Blade: The Series was scheduled to go on the air at 10:00 PM.

If they aired Cummo vs. Goulet next as scheduled and then the main event of Anderson Silva vs. Chris Leben, they could end up running very late if both fights went to the judges' scorecards.

A decision had to be made, and it had to be made quickly. Should they send Cummo and Goulet out as scheduled to fight live, or should they air pre-taped footage of one of the shorter prelim fights instead?

The decision was made to go with a short prelim fight because at least they knew the length of the prelim fight (given that it had already happened), whereas they had no idea how long Cummo vs. Goulet would last. Pre-taped footage of Rob MacDonald vs. Kristian Rothaermel was shown on the Spike TV broadcast (the MacDonald vs. Rothaermel fight drew a 1.3 rating). Silva vs. Leben would be up next after some more commercials, video packages, and Blade promos; and then Cummo vs. Goulet would have to take place in the building after the show went off the air at 10:00 PM.

After the MacDonald vs. Rothaermel fight ended at 9:17 PM, a bunch of promos and packages aired for 19 minutes until the Silva-Leben fight started at 9:36 PM. Silva vs. Leben would fill all of the remaining time on the broadcast if the fight went to a judges' decision, which is something that one always has to assume is going to happen when producing a live TV presentation of a non-worked product.

Everyone was thrown a curveball when Silva dismantled Leben in less than one minute, and a fight that started a few seconds after the clock hit 9:36 PM also ended at 9:36 PM. The fight was literally too short to have a rating, although if you take into account the pre- and post-fight minutes, it drew a 1.5 rating. The producers had given themselves all the time they would need if the fight went 15 minutes, and instead it didn't even last one minute.

At that point, there was under a half-hour remaining until Blade: The Series' heavily hyped premiere was scheduled to go on the air, and another tough decision had to be made very quickly. They could kill as much time as possible and not have any additional live fights on the broadcast, which would mean that they would air one of the shorter prelim fights (and there were two remaining unaired prelim fights that had lasted five minutes or less). Alternatively, they could change the start time of Cummo vs. Goulet yet again and try to squeeze one more live fight into the broadcast.

Ultimately, the decision was made to go with Option #2. All post-fight interviews in the Silva-Leben fight were cancelled, and unlike the previous decision regarding Cummo-Goulet, everyone could see how much of a last-minute decision this was by the fact that Joe Rogan was literally standing in the cage with a microphone next to Anderson Silva, ready to interview him and just about to be pitched to by Mike Goldberg, when the decision came down to cancel the post-fight interview and get the next fight's participants in the cage as soon as possible.

There was no time to create a normal transition in between segments, so Mike Goldberg simply said, "What a finish!" instead of saying, "Here's Joe with Anderson Silva," as the show cut to one last replay of the Silva-Leben finish before going to commercial. After that break, a second block of commercials was broadcast because it was the last remaining block of commercials that had been sold. This way, there could be zero commercial breaks in the final quarter-hour of the broadcast, which would help to provide a stronger direct lead-in to Blade: The Series.

By the time all of that was finished, along with faster-than-usual ring introductions for Cummo vs. Goulet, it was 9:44 PM. The timing was such that the UFN broadcast would run past 10:00 PM if the fight went to a judges' decision, and it would not run past 10:00 PM if the fight ended in the first two-and-a-half rounds.

This is where a live pro wrestling broadcast is so much easier for everyone involved than something that is not worked. In the same exact circumstances on a live pro wrestling broadcast, the powers-that-be would make the decision to cut the match short, they would communicate that decision to the referee via his earpiece, the referee would tell the wrestlers, "Go home" (which means, "Go straight to the finish"), the wrestlers would go right to the planned finishing sequence, and everyone would be happy.

However, despite the shenanigans between Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, and Dana White on The Ultimate Fighter 3, the UFC is not pro wrestling. There was nothing else that anyone could do at this point in the UFN 5 broadcast other than to just hope that the Cummo-Goulet fight ended sooner rather than later.

As it turned out, the Cummo-Goulet fight ended "later" rather than "sooner." The fight lasted the full 15 minutes, with no commercial breaks. Fortunately, a lot of Blade fans showed up a few minutes early and helped the Cummo-Goulet fight draw a 1.8 overall rating, which was the highest of any fight the UFN broadcast.

The fight ended at 10:01 PM, and the only thing that was left was for the judges to add up their previously entered round totals (fortunately, among these judges was not Dalby Shirley, who must have had both contact lenses in the same eye when determining that Evans vs. Bonnar was a 29-29 draw).

The judges' scores were read quickly, the show went off the air quickly without any post-fight interviews, and Blade: The Series went on the air at 10:03 PM. While the producers failed to format Ultimate Fight Night so that it would end at exactly 10:00 PM, they came close enough.

Given that the first quarter-hour of Blade drew a 2.2 rating, the delay was short enough that it did not seem to deter many of the people who tuned in specifically to see Blade.

Network TV Competition
Airing head-to-head with Ultimate Fight Night on Wednesday, June 28th from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM was a line-up of summer network programming, which performed better than most summer fare on network TV.

In the 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM hour, Fox aired the first half of a new two-hour episode of So You Think You Can Dance, which came in first place with a 5.2 overall rating in this hour. NBC aired a repeat of America's Got Talent, which drew a 4.7 overall rating. CBS aired a new one-hour special entitled "Shark: Mind of a Demon with Fabien Cousteau," which drew a 3.3 overall rating. ABC aired repeats of The George Lopez Show (3.3 overall rating) and Freddie (2.7 overall rating).

In the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour, NBC came in first place with a new episode of America's Got Talent, which drew a strong 7.1 overall rating. Fox was not far behind with the second hour of So You Think You Can Dance, which drew a 6.3 overall rating. A repeat of Criminal Minds drew a 5.4 overall rating on CBS, and a repeat of Lost on ABC drew a 2.0 overall rating. The low rating for a Lost repeat is not unusual, as most serialized dramas such as Lost and 24 do not perform well when they air in repeat form.

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