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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale Draws Lowest Ratings in History of TUF Finales
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 4 drew a 1.1 overall rating on Saturday, November 11th, making it the least-watched TUF season finale in the history of the series. The previous low for a TUF finale was the 1.9 overall rating that was drawn by the first season finale.

While a 1.1 overall rating is still a solid rating for cable television, it's barely above Spike TV's recent primetime average of 1.0, and there's a big difference between drawing almost double the primetime average of a cable network and just barely surpassing it.

Ratings Also Down in Key Demographics
Among 18-to-34-year-old males, which is the viewer demographic that is seen as the most important by Spike TV and the UFC due to the fact that it is highly coveted by advertisers, the first three TUF finales drew ratings of 3.3, 3.7, and 3.8, respectively. The TUF 4 finale drew a 2.0 rating in this demographic, which is a decrease of 44 percent from the previous average for live TUF finales.

In the slightly broader 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, the first three live season finales of TUF drew ratings of 2.7, 2.7, and 2.9, respectively. The TUF 4 finale drew a 1.5 rating in this demographic, which is a decrease of 46 percent from the previous average for live TUF finales.

TUF 4 Finale Reverses Trend of TUF Finales Out-Drawing Regular Seasons
At this time of the year in 2005, The Ultimate Fighter 2 drew some of the lowest ratings in series history in the last several weeks of the twelve-episode regular season, only to rebound when the live season finale drew an excellent 2.0 overall rating.

This year, The Ultimate Fighter 4 was the least-watched season to date, and unlike TUF 2, it did not rebound with a stronger rating for the live season finale.

Historically, the live season finale of any given TUF season has always drawn better ratings than the twelve-episode regular season. After all, the entire regular season is designed to build up the live finale and ensure that even if a viewer misses an episode or two (or three) of the regular season, he or she will still make sure to tune in for the live season finale.

The first season of TUF improved from a 1.6 regular season average to 1.9 for the live season finale. The second season of TUF improved from a 1.4 regular season average to 2.0 for the live finale. The third season of TUF improved from a 1.7 regular season average to 2.0 for the live season finale. On average, the first three TUF season finales drew 26 percent higher ratings than the first three TUF regular seasons.

In the case of the TUF 4 finale, the opposite was true. The twelve-episode regular season drew an average rating of 1.2, and the live season finale drew a 1.1 overall rating.

TUF 4 Finale Also Lower-Rated than Non-TUF Live Specials
Instead of making more and more viewers of the show excited to see the live finale at the end of the season, it seem as though the regular season of TUF 4 actually caused viewers to have less interest in watching the TUF season finale than they would normally have in watching a UFC live fight special in general.

This is evidenced by the fact that the TUF 4 finale was not just the least-watched TUF finale in UFC history; it was also the least-watched live fight special that the UFC has ever aired on Spike TV. The live UFC Fight Night events, which typically draw much lower ratings than the TUF finales, have still averaged higher ratings than the TUF 4 finale was able to draw.

The reason that this is disconcerting is because the UFC Fight Night live specials don't have entire seasons of The Ultimate Fighter to build them up, whereas the TUF live finales obviously do. Therefore, it only makes sense that the TUF finales have generally drawn higher ratings than the UFC Fight Night specials, with the obvious exception of the October 10th special and its Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock main event (which had years of build-up behind it).

The "non-TUF" live fight specials that the UFC has aired on Spike TV (ie, the Ultimate Fight Night and UFC Fight Night events) are also lower-rated in part because they are often placed awkwardly in the middle of the week. Only one of the seven Ultimate Fight Night/UFC Fight Night specials has aired on a Saturday night, which has been established for years as the week's primary "Fight Night" in both boxing and MMA.

The non-TUF fight cards on Spike TV have, on average, outdrawn the TUF 4 live finale terms of the overall rating (1.8 to 1.1), as well as the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic (2.9 to 2.0), and in the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic (2.3 to 1.5).

The Big Question: Beginning of a Trend?
The big question moving forward is whether TUF 4's low ratings are just an aberration or whether they represent the beginning of a downward trend for UFC ratings. The latter would seem to be very unlikely, given the fact that less than two months ago, the UFC drew a phenomenal 3.1 overall rating for Ortiz-Shamrock III.

The likely reason for the drastically decreased TUF 4 ratings is not that there's a general disinterest in the UFC among people who watched previous seasons of TUF. It's much more likely that the appeal (or lack of appeal) of a TUF season or a UFC live fight special is entirely dependent on the actual fighters and how well they are promoted.

It's clearly not just the UFC brand name that sells, or there wouldn't be a live fight special drawing a 3.1 rating in October and a second live fight special from the same company drawing a 1.1 rating in November. It's all about the product and specifically how interested or disinterested the television-viewing public is in seeing the product that's being presented to them.

Ortiz-Shamrock III, while it wasn't something that was highly anticipated among hardcore fans of the sport, was a product that millions and millions of casual MMA fans (and new fans) were interested in seeing. The Ultimate Fighter 4 was not, for all of the various reasons that we've analyzed ad nauseam over the past few months. More than anything else, the ratings drawn by the TUF 4 finale demonstrate that if fans aren't interested in the specific fights or fighters that are being presented, they're not going to watch just because it's the UFC or just because it's on free TV.

With overexposure being one of the problems, Spike TV and Zuffa went a long way towards alleviating that problem when they delayed the fifth season of TUF, which had been tentatively set to start filming in October and airing in January (it's now tentatively scheduled to start filming in January and airing in April). The brief delay was a smart move that will help the series in the long run by avoiding overexposure.

When TUF 5 does start airing several months from now, its success or failure is going to be based on whether or not the producers of the series are able to conceive and execute a concept for the season that resonates with hardcore and casual fans alike.

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