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Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Ratings Hold Steady in Week Two
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The second episode of The Ultimate Fighter 4 drew an overall rating of 1.6, which was almost identical to the season premiere's overall rating one week earlier.

While the fourth season premiere of TUF could not match the third season premiere in the ratings (2.0 overall rating for the third season premiere; 1.7 overall rating for the fourth season premiere), the more important factor over the long run is how well the show maintains its audience over time. In this area, TUF 4 is outperforming TUF 3 thus far.

History Does Not Repeat Itself with Week One vs. Week Two Ratings Drop-Off
A large percentage of the viewers who watched the premiere of TUF 3 back in April did not come back for week two, as the overall rating went from 2.0 for the premiere all the way down to 1.3 for the second episode.

If the same percentage of viewers tuned out this season, the result would have been a hugely disappointing 1.1 overall rating for Episode Two, but that's not what happened. Instead, the overall rating for episode two on August 24th barely decreased at all, as it went from 1.7 to 1.6.

With the premiere-to-week-two drop-off out of the way, the fourth season of TUF now has a chance to build some ratings momentum over the course of the season, which every season of TUF except the second season has been able to do.

Specific Demographic Ratings Already Hold Steady
The ratings for the second episode of this season also held up fairly well in the specific demographics that TUF's advertisers are targeting.

Among 18-to-34-year-old males, Episode Two drew a 2.7 rating, which was down slightly from Episode One's 2.8 rating in that demographic.

In the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, which combines the aforementioned 18-to-34-year-old male demographic with the 35-to-49-year-old male demographic, Episode Two drew a 2.1 rating, which was down slightly from Episode One's 2.2 rating in the same demographic.

Dewees-Ray Bloodbath Could Have an Impact on Future Episodes' Ratings
The bloodbath involving Edwin Dewees and Gideon Ray drew a 1.7 rating over the final two quarter-hours of Episode Two, falling short of the 1.8 rating that was drawn by the fight between Shonie Carter-Rich Clementi one week earlier.

The question now is what affect, if any, such a bloodbath will have on ratings in the future. Specifically, will the people who saw it be more likely or less likely to watch TUF in the future?

The only way that it could make people significantly more likely to watch TUF in the future is if they specifically enjoy seeing that much bloodshed, or if there's a large positive word of mouth effect. There is no evidence of any positive worth of mouth effect on the ratings for the Dewees-Ray fight, as the exact rating that it was drawing at the beginning of the fight was 1.68, and the exact rating that it was drawing at the end of the fight was 1.70. The kind of ratings increase that happens when lots of people call their friends and say, "Turn to this channel because you have to see this!" was simply not present during the Dewees-Ray fight.

The fight could, on the other hand, make some people less likely to watch in the future, specifically those who are new to the sport of mixed martial arts, or those who are squeamish. Although the UFC draws excellent ratings among 18-to-34-year-old males, it doesn't draw anywhere near as well among 35-to-49-year-olds or viewers over 49, and the Dewees-Ray fight is certainly not going to help that.

Viewers in the 35-to-49-year-old demographic, while not as coveted by advertisers as 18-to-34-year-olds, are still important to the show's overall rating and total number of viewers, and they also make up a sizable portion of the combined 18-to-49-year-old demographic.

For those viewers who are new to MMA and just tuned in and saw blood pouring of Edwin Dewees' head like a faucet while the doctors said, "He's fine as long as he can still see," it can't be understated how much of a bush-league image was projected to those fans. If all that one has seen of mixed martial arts is the Dewees-Ray fight, one would probably have a disproportionately poor opinion of the sport.

I'm hardly someone who is squeamish about blood, as I've seen pro wrestlers lose a lot more blood from self-inflicted blade-jobs than Edwin Dewees did on TUF 4. The difference is that pro wrestling is a largely unregulated free-for-all where the safety rules and regulations are often changed on the fly. Mixed martial arts is supposed to be a sport with doctors who look out for the health and well-being of the fighters above all else.

The fact that the doctors let the fight continue long after it was clear that Dewees' cut was not going to stop gushing blood is, sadly, far from an isolated incident. This is the same team of doctors who cleared Jorge Gurgel to compete on TUF with a pre-existing torn ACL. This is the same team of doctors who cleared Rob MacDonald to compete on TUF with a pre-existing torn labrum in his shoulder. This is the same team of doctors who let the fight continue at UFC 57 in February when Frank Mir had a large cut over his eye and flat-out told the doctor that he couldn't see out of the affected eye (which was audible on the PPV broadcast). This is the same team of doctors who let the fight continue at UFC 61 in July when Yves Edwards was losing puddle-creating amounts of blood. It's true that "this ain't ballet," as the saying goes, but it's not supposed to be a free-for-all, either.

The logic that it doesn't matter how much blood a fighter loses as long as he can still see is something that just doesn't hold up. If during a fight in the near future a fighter gets a large cut on the top or back of his head (in a way that doesn't interfere with his vision at all) and he loses a gallon of blood, would that make it "medically okay"? Of course not.

Putting aside the argument of whether the Dewees-Ray fight should have stopped when the two fighters were put back on the ground and it became clear that Dewees' cut was going to continue to gush blood like a faucet, the fact remains that the fight wasn't stopped. That may or may not have a slight negative effect on the ratings in the future, and it has already projected a bush-league image to anyone who is new to the sport.

UFC Unleashed Almost Matches UFC Fight Night's Rating
The biggest ratings-related surprise of the night actually came from TUF 3's lead-in. The Ultimate Fighter's lead-in on August 17th was a live two-hour fight special (UFC Fight Night 6), which drew a 1.5 overall rating. The Ultimate Fighter's lead-in on August 14th was an episode of UFC Unleashed, which surprisingly almost matched that total with a 1.3 overall rating.

The overall rating of 1.3 was the third-highest for UFC Unleashed since it moved to Thursday nights back in April. The two highest-rated airings of UFC Unleashed came on April 20th and June 29th; both of those airings drew overall ratings of 1.4.

TNA Impact, the pro wrestling show that follows The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, drew a very disappointing rating of just 0.8 on August 24th, meaning that it retained just 50% of its lead-in audience.

Network TV Competition for TUF and Unleashed
The network TV competition that went head-to-head with the UFC block of programming on Spike TV was fairly weak once again, but this will not be the case for much longer as the summer TV season nears its completion.

Airing head-to-head with TUF on August 24th from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM, NBC's drama series Windfall collapsed in the ratings without the benefit of having America's Got Talent as a lead-in. Windfall went from a 3.9 overall rating on August 17th to an embarrassingly-low-for-network-television 2.9 overall rating on August 24th. A new episode of the ABC newsmagazine Primetime drew a 4.6 overall rating, while a repeat of Without a Trace on CBS led the pack with a 7.0 overall rating.

Airing head-to-head with UFC Unleashed from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM on August 24th, an NFL preseason football game on Fox drew a 4.3 overall rating. Two repeats of The Office on NBC each drew 2.7 overall ratings. While averaging a 2.7 rating for new episodes during the season would lead to the show getting cancelled (even with an Emmy Award for Best Comedy--- see Arrested Development), it's not considered as big of a deal for two repeat airings in the summer to have drawn such low ratings.

Meanwhile, a repeat of CSI drew a 7.6 overall rating on CBS, while a repeat of Grey's Anatomy on ABC drew a 5.6 overall rating. Now airing head-to-head, CSI and Grey's Anatomy are both expected to draw ratings in the 10 to 15 range every week when their new seasons start airing in September.

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