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Sunday, October 01, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Ratings Up Slightly to 1.3; Chuck Liddell on Network TV
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Episode Six of The Ultimate Fighter 4 drew a 1.3 overall rating on Thursday, September 21st, which was up slightly from the previous week's 1.2 overall rating.

While this season of TUF has fallen far short of TUF 3 in the ratings throughout the first half of its season, there has been a slight positive trend in the ratings over the past few weeks.

The overall rating is going to have to be higher than 1.3 on a weekly basis in order for TUF 4 to not end up being the lowest rated season of TUF to date, but on this particular week, the overall rating of 1.3 must have brought a sigh of relief to Spike TV and Zuffa.

After the overall ratings bottomed out with a series-low of 1.1 with Episode Four, the fifth episode of the season drew a 1.2 overall rating, and now the sixth episode has drawn a 1.3 overall rating. In that sense, there is reason for optimism if the ratings continue to improve.

In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, Episode Six of TUF 4 drew a 2.2 rating, which was up from the previous week's rating of 1.9 in that demographic. Again, coupled with the increase in the overall rating, there is reason for optimism.

Season-to-Season Comparisons Still Disappointing
An overall rating of 1.3 would normally be considered a big hit on cable television, and it still is in the case of TUF. It's only disappointing when compared to the expectations that have been set by previous seasons of The Ultimate Fighter.

Episode Six of TUF 3 drew a 1.7 overall rating, and it was highlighted by the drama of Noah Inhofer quitting the show after an envelope with a letter from his girlfriend mysteriously showed up at the gym. Episode Six of TUF 2 drew a 1.4 overall rating, and it was highlighted by Jason Von Flue's victory over Jorge Gurgel. Episode Six of TUF 1 drew a 2.0 overall rating, and it was highlighted by Josh Koscheck's victory over Chris Leben.

Episode Six from season one is still tied for the highest-rated UFC broadcast of all time, although the 2.0 record is expected to be shattered by the Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock special on October 10th, which the UFC and Spike are hoping will surpass the 3.0 mark.

On a season-to-season basis, the first six episodes of TUF 3 averaged a 1.7 overall rating, while the first six episodes of TUF 4 averaged a 1.4 overall rating.

Just as notably, TUF 4 is averaging a 2.3 rating in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic through six episodes, which is down from the 2.9 mark set by the first six episodes of season three.

One Week of Hype for Matt Serra's Fight Could Boost the Ratings
If there's one thing that has been built up on the show throughout the season, it's Matt Serra stepping into the Octagon and fighting. Serra has been the most prominently featured contestant on the show, and if the producers and editors of the show have succeeded in making viewers anticipate Serra's first fight on the show, then it would stand to reason that Episode Seven could draw a better rating than Episode Six.

This could be further aided by the fact that Serra's welterweight quarter-final bout is the last of the welterweight quarter-finals, so Spike TV can (and has) hyped all week long in commercials that Matt Serra will be fighting on Thursday's episode.

Normally, specific fights can't be hyped ahead of time because a large part of the suspense on any given episode is based on which fighters are going to be selected to fight. The exceptions are the last fights in any round of the competition, due to the fact that there are no other remaining fighters who could potentially be fighting.

The same could be said for the fight between Jorge Rivera and Patrick Cote on Episode Eight in the last of the middleweight quarter-finals, but Rivera hasn't been featured on the show anywhere near as much as Serra, and Cote hasn't had much screen time at all during the first six episodes.

The Episode Five fight between Pete Sell and Charles McCarthy did not provide the show with a noticeable increase in viewership. The Sell-McCarthy fight averaged a 1.3 rating over the course of the show's final 30 minutes, and the episode as a whole also averaged a 1.3 overall rating. This is the first time this season that the fight on any given episode did not average a higher rating than the entire episode on which it aired.

Liddell Gets Network TV Face Time, but the Added Exposure Might Not Last Much Longer
As previously reported by MMAWeekly, the September 19th episode of ABC's smash hit reality series Dancing with the Stars included contestant Willa Ford mentioning Chuck Liddell and the UFC by name, and a ten-second clip of Liddell was shown. That episode of the show drew a 12.1 overall rating. While this had a negligible impact on the ratings for the episode of TUF that aired two nights later, it does go a long way towards building up the UFC's brand awareness in general.

Liddell was also on the episode of Dancing with the Stars that aired on September 26th, although ratings for that episode are not yet available. Liddell was shown in the audience cheering on Ford and wearing a shirt that said, "Vote for Willa... Or Else." However, Liddell's name was not mentioned at any time during the episode.

If Willa Ford makes it to the final stages of the competition (as was expected going into the season) and if Liddell keeps attending the tapings in the "Willa Ford friends and family" section of the audience, there is no doubt that he will be mentioned by name once again and perhaps several more times before the season is over.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Ford is going to be on the show much longer, as she has consistently finished in the bottom three in fan voting and just barely avoided elimination in the first two weeks. Despite strong reviews from the show's panel of judges, as well as a personality-establishing love-hate relationship with her professional dance partner on the show, it has become clear that for whatever reason, she is not doing well in the fan voting.

If Ford is eliminated this week or shortly thereafter, it would cut off something that appeared to be a great opportunity for MMA to get a lot more exposure in the coming weeks on one of the most watched shows on television.

Head-to-Head Network Competition Shocks the Television Industry... How This Could Benefit TUF
Leading into the sixth episode of TUF 4, a repeat of UFC Unleashed aired from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM on September 21st and drew an overall rating of 1.0.

The results of the head-to-head ratings showdown that took place in the same timeslot sent shockwaves through the entire television industry, as the #1 show on television, CSI, was dethroned by the ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy.

New episodes of the two series went head-to-head for the first time on September 21st, at the same time that UFC Unleashed was airing on Spike TV. Shockingly, Grey's Anatomy won the battle rather handily, drawing a 15.7 overall rating for its season premiere, compared to a 13.5 overall rating for CSI's season premiere.

In the 2005-2006 TV season, new episodes of CSI ranged from a season-low of 14.4 to a season-high of 18.8, while new episodes of Grey's Anatomy in its normal weekly timeslot ranged from a season-low of 11.8 to a season-high of 15.4.

It remains to be seen whether Grey's Anatomy beating CSI head-to-head is a short-term thing, or whether ABC's big gamble will pay off throughout the season, but in any case, it can't have zero effect on the UFC's ratings when 30% of the entire country is watching one of two specific TV shows at the same time.

Due to the fact that Grey's Anatomy and CSI are airing every week at 9:00 PM (head-to-head with UFC Unleashed) and not at 10:00 PM (head-to-head with The Ultimate Fighter), this could actually benefit TUF's ratings due to the tens of millions of people throughout the country who are in front of their TVs at 10:00 PM on Thursday nights when Grey's Anatomy and CSI go off the air.

Based on the September 21st ratings, only two-thirds of these people are staying tuned to ABC/CBS, which means that in the precise timeframe that TUF is starting on any given week, a whopping ten percent of the entire country is either going to bed, turning off their TV, or changing the channel from ABC/CBS to something else.

If even a tiny percentage of the millions of people who are watching their TVs and changing the channel at 10:00 PM on Thursday nights happen to stumble upon TUF and keep watching it, that can only help the show.

This is exactly why airing in a timeslot that is near a mega-hit show (or two) is both a blessing and a curse for a TV show. It's a curse for the obvious reason that most people are watching the mega-hit show or shows, but it's also a blessing because of the sheer amount of "eyeballs" that are watching TV in that timeframe.

It's the same reason that when a mega-hit show like American Idol is airing on Fox and it goes off the air at 10:00 PM, the ratings for most of the shows on television that start airing at 10:00 PM are higher than usual. If a mega-hit show goes off the air at 9:00 PM, the ratings for most of the shows on television that start at 9:00 PM are higher than usual.

This same effect could potentially benefit TUF 4 as the season progresses, particularly if such a large percentage of the country continues to watch Grey's Anatomy and CSI in the hour before TUF every week.

Other Head-to-Head Network Ratings
Fortunately for The Ultimate Fighter and every other TV show that airs at 10:00 PM on Thursday nights, the network shows that aired at 10:00 PM were nowhere near as dominant as their 9:00 PM counterparts on September 21st.

While the new CBS drama Shark retained a respectable percentage of CSI's audience and thus drew a 9.8 overall rating in the 10:00 PM hour, that is still down drastically from the 13.8 overall rating that the season premiere of Without a Trace drew in the same timeslot in September 2005.

As for the new ABC drama Six Degrees, it lost a whopping 45% of the Grey's Anatomy audience in the 10:00 PM hour and thus drew a hugely disappointing overall rating of 8.7.

Winning the 10:00 PM timeslot was the season premiere of NBC's ER, which drew a 10.0 overall rating and will surely perform better in the ratings this season now that Without a Trace is no longer on Thursday nights to kick it around.

In addition to Grey's Anatomy and CSI, the other shows that aired head-to-head with UFC Unleashed in the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour were new episodes of Deal or No Deal on NBC and Celebrity Duets on Fox.

Deal or No Deal drew a 6.5 overall rating, which was down from the 9.6 overall rating that the series drew three nights earlier in its season premiere, but it was about as good as could be expected up against Grey's Anatomy and CSI. Meanwhile, the ratings for Celebrity Duets fell off the face of the planet up against the new competition. The show drew a 2.4 overall rating, which is often grounds for immediate cancellation on network TV. In Celebrity Duets' case, it has been spared because it only has one week left anyway.

Airing immediately after The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV at 11:00 PM on September 21st, the pro wrestling show TNA Impact drew a 0.8 overall rating, which was up slightly from the previous week's 0.7 overall rating.

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