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Sunday, September 17, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- The Ultimate Fighter Draws Series Low Ratings in Week Four
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The fourth episode of The Ultimate Fighter 4 drew a 1.1 overall rating on Thursday, September 7th, which was down 21 percent from the previous week's 1.4 overall rating.

The overall rating of 1.1 matched the series' all-time low rating. The only other episode of TUF from any season to draw a 1.1 overall rating on the show's normal night was Episode Nine of the second season, which featured a heavyweight match-up between Rashad Evans and Mike Whitehead.

In addition to drawing a 1.1 overall rating, Episode Four's rating among 18-to-34-year-old males was just 1.7, which is the second-lowest rating in the history of the series in that demographic. The only episode to draw a lower rating among 18-to-34-year-old males was the very first episode of the first season, which drew a 1.5 rating in the advertiser-coveted demographic.

Episode Four of TUF 4 actually drew a lower overall rating than the previous two episodes of UFC Unleashed, which had drawn overall ratings of 1.3 and 1.2, respectively, on the previous two Thursday nights.

NFL Football Part of the Reason for the Decline... but Only a Small Part
The first game of the NFL's regular season aired head-to-head with Episode Four of TUF 4. The NFL game averaged an overall rating of 11.8 on ABC, and the specific hour that aired head-to-head with TUF drew an 11.5 overall rating.

While there's no doubt that the NFL broadcast had some impact on TUF's ratings, the facts and history both indicate that the NFL's impact on TUF's ratings was actually much smaller than one might expect.

Unlikely as it seems, when the second season of TUF had to go head-to-head with the season premiere of Monday Night Football on ABC last year, the effect on TUF's ratings was negligible.

The last episode of TUF 2 that aired without Monday Night Football as head-to-head competition drew a 1.5 overall rating on September 5, 2005. The next week, the season premiere of Monday Night Football aired head-to-head with TUF and drew a 12.7 overall rating, which is actually higher than the 11.8 overall rating that was drawn by the NFL game last Thursday.

What happened to TUF 2's ratings that week, you ask? What happened was that the overall rating went down exactly 0.1, from 1.5 to 1.4. The all-important 18-to-34-year-old male rating actually stayed the same, as the show drew the exact same 2.5 rating in the key demographic that it drew the week before when it didn't have the Monday Night Football's season premiere as head-to-head competition.

So, while it might seem to be logical to simply dismiss this week's ratings decline by saying, "Of course it went down by 20+ percent... what do you expect going head-to-head with the NFL?" that is simply not an accurate statement when you look at the facts. This means that something else is also responsible for the decreases in TUF 4's ratings.

Lack of NFL Impact on TUF Ratings Goes Beyond One Week
Even going beyond the lack of a one-week drop-off when TUF 2 faced new head-to-head competition in the form of Monday Night Football last fall, the Neilsen ratings information also shows that Monday Night Football as a whole did not have a significant negative impact on TUF 2's ratings.

The loss of WWE Raw as a lead-in can conclusively be shown to be a major contributing factor to TUF 2's ratings collapse as the season went on, but the competition with Monday Night Football cannot.

There were six episodes of TUF 2 that had the benefit of WWE Raw as a lead-in before WWE went back to USA Network. Three of those episodes did not have regular season Monday Night Football as competition, and three of those episodes did have regular season MNF games as competition.

The three episodes of TUF 2 that did not have MNF as competition averaged a 1.6 overall rating, and that number decreased by 0.2 to an average of 1.4 in the three weeks with MNF as competition.

In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, the three episodes of TUF 2 that did not have MNF as competition averaged a 2.6 rating , and that number decreased by 0.1 to an average of 2.5 in the next three weeks.

What this means is that the head-to-head competition with the NFL was responsible for ratings drop-offs in the range of 0.1 or 0.2, which pale in comparison to the kind of drop-offs that TUF 4 has been experiencing since week one.

The reason that this is so important is because it demonstrates that the NFL is not the only reason, or even a major reason, for TUF's ratings collapse.

TUF 4 Ratings Have Decreased Gradually Over Time
In the absence of any significant effect from the NFL, the Neilsen ratings information shows that, for whatever reason, a significant number of viewers have been turned off by one thing or another during the first few weeks of TUF 4.

This is supported by the fact that the ratings have consistently decreased since the beginning of the season, whereas TUF 3's ratings tended to increase as the season went on.

The first four episodes of TUF 4, in order from Episode One to Episode Four, have drawn overall ratings of 1.7, 1.6, 1.4, and 1.1.

In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, the drop-off is more drastic, with ratings of 2.8, 2.7, 2.4, and 1.7 over the first four weeks.

In the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, the first four episodes of TUF 4 have drawn ratings of 2.2, 2.1, 1.7, and 1.3.

Possible Reasons for the Ratings Fall-Off
Why is this happening, and what does it mean? It could mean that viewers have not become attached to the characters in the way that they became attached during the first and third seasons. It could mean that the glaring lack of air time or character development for the coaches/trainers has turned off a lot of viewers. It could mean that the gruesome amount of blood loss on Episode Two turned off a certain percentage of viewers. It could mean that the general concept of Season Four is simply not appealing to the masses in the way that it is appealing to the hardcore fanbase. The most likely scenario is that it's a combination of all these factors.

Hopefully, one thing that the producers and editors of the TUF series will not do is mistakenly think that this ratings decline is because there isn't enough "reality show drama." That was the general feeling among the producers regarding TUF 2's decreased ratings, and the result (or at least one of them) was large amounts of alcohol being placed in the house during Season Three so that contestants could get sauced and naturally create some good reality TV moments.

One can only hope that when TUF 5 starts filming in October, the producers will not resort to the same tactics, because it's very unlikely that "reality show drama" is what viewers want above all else.

What the UFC's Audience Wants Above All Else
If it were true that "reality show drama" is what spikes the interest of viewers even more than actually seeing UFC fights, then a week-long run of commercials teasing that one of the contestants was going to be kicked off of TUF 4 would have done something to stem the tide of decreasing ratings. Airings of older fights on UFC Unleashed would not be drawing higher ratings than an hour-long reality TV show about the UFC under any circumstances. A repeat of TUF airing at 9:00 PM on September 7th would not have drawn a lower rating (0.9) than the episode of UFC Unleashed that drew a 1.2 overall rating in the same timeslot on the previous Thursday.

In fact, what the ratings of TUF have always shown in almost every single episode of the series that has ever aired is that people want to see the actual fights more than anything else. Even the most recent episode, with its series-low ratings, increased from a 1.0 rating at mid-hour to a 1.2 rating for the minutes of the show that featured the pre-fight, fight, and post-fight segments of the Travis Lutter vs. Scott Smith match-up.

Zuffa president Dana White recently said on the Wrestling Observer's radio show that the UFC plans to run between 23 and 36 live events in 2007. With such a high number of live events, and such a strong public demand to see the actual fights above all else, next year would seem to be an ideal time for the launch of a new weekly series that would feature new fights every single week (not necessarily live fights, but never-before-seen airings of recently taped fights). There are certainly going to be enough new fights to go around in 2007, and the ratings trends indicate that casual and hardcore fans alike would prefer to see more fights.

Network TV Competition: Fox Launches New Line-Up and NBC Dominates while CBS & ABC Wait
Though it's very unlikely to have affected The Ultimate Fighter's ratings by more than 0.1 or 0.2, the first game of the NFL's regular season led NBC to a ratings victory among the networks on September 7th. The game averaged an overall rating of 11.8, which was up slightly from the 11.6 overall rating that was drawn by the Thursday night premiere of the NFL regular season on ABC last season. However, the rating of 11.8 was down from the 12.7 overall rating that was drawn last year by the season premiere of Monday Night Football on ABC.

Airing head-to-head with a repeat of TUF in the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour, the NFL game on NBC averaged a 12.5 rating for the hour. While Little Richard slipped a little bit deeper into the throes of insanity right before America's eyes, the show on which he is allegedly a judge did not slip in the ratings, as Celebrity Duets drew a 4.6 overall rating on Fox, which was a lower-than-expected drop-off from the series premiere's 5.3 overall rating.

Also in the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour, repeats of CSI on CBS and Grey's Anatomy of ABC drew overall ratings of 7.2 and 5.5, respectively. Last season, the ratings for new episodes of CSI and Grey's Anatomy were such that not even the NFL could touch either series in terms of overall viewership during the regular season, but the two series' audiences might be fragmented now that CSI and Grey's Anatomy will be airing new episodes head-to-head with each other starting on September 21st.

Airing head-to-head with a new episode of TUF in the 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM hour, the NFL game on NBC averaged an 11.5 rating for the hour, down from the previous hour's 12.5 average. In the same hour, a repeat of the moving-to-Sunday CBS drama Without a Trace drew a 7.3 overall rating. The ABC newsmagazine Primetime drew a 4.4 overall rating in one of its final weeks as a regular weekly series; it will be relegated to occasional specials starting this fall.

Following The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV was the pro wrestling show TNA Impact, which continued to suffer the decline in ratings that the show has been experiencing ever since TNA co-owner Jeff Jarrett was given the top on-air position in the company. The latest installment of TNA Impact drew a 0.7 overall rating, which is the lowest rating that TNA Impact has ever drawn when it had a new episode of The Ultimate Fighter as a lead-in.

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