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Saturday, December 23, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC Fight Night Ratings Improve, but Still Below UFC's Average
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The live two-hour broadcast of UFC Fight Night 7 on Spike TV drew an overall rating of 1.3 on Wednesday, December 13th. While this is an improvement over the record-low ratings of the UFC's previous live fight special on November 11th, UFC Fight Night 7 still drew ratings that were below average across-the-board when compared to the UFC's average ratings over the past two years.

The live finale of The Ultimate Fighter 4 drew a disastrous overall rating of 1.1 in November, and UFC Fight Night 7 did surpass that mark with its 1.3 overall rating. However, it's still down 28 percent from the 1.8 average rating for all of the UFC's live fight specials that have ever aired on Spike TV.

Key Demographic Ratings Down from UFC's Averages
The same trend holds true for the ratings in specific demographics: UFC Fight Night 7 did not sink lower than the all-time low ratings of November 11th, but it still drew significantly lower ratings than the UFC has historically averaged with its live fight specials.

In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, UFN 7 drew a 2.0 rating, which actually ties the November 11th broadcast and the very first Ultimate Fight Night as the UFC's lowest ever ratings in this demographic for a live fight card. The average-to-date for live UFC fight cards on Spike TV is 3.0 in this demographic, meaning that UFN 7 was down 33 percent from the average. Notably, it still out-drew a regular season NBA game on ESPN in this demographic.

In the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, UFN 7 drew a 1.6 overall rating, which was up slightly from the all-time-low 1.5 rating that the TUF 4 finale drew in this demographic. However, a 1.6 rating is still down 30 percent from the average-to-date of 2.3 in this demographic for live UFC fight cards on Spike TV.

Viewership Level Plateaus at End of First Hour
The UFC Fight Night 7 broadcast opened up with Marcus Davis' unanimous decision victory over Shonie Carter. That fight drew a 1.1 rating, which is a typical rating for the first fight on a live UFC broadcast on Spike TV, as a sizable percentage of the people who end up watching the broadcast aren't even aware that it's on until they stumble onto it while flipping channels or they receive a phone call from a friend telling them to tune in. The last time Shonie Carter fought on Spike TV, it was in his pre-taped TUF 4 semi-final bout against Matt Serra, which drew a 1.4 rating.

The one big increase in viewership level during the broadcast came at the beginning of Karo Parisyan's three-round unanimous decision victory over Drew Fickett, which drew a 1.4 rating. While Parisyan vs. Fickett was the only thing that increased the ratings substantially on this night, its 1.4 rating still pales in comparison to the viewership level of Parisyan's last fight, a decision loss to Diego Sanchez in August that drew a 2.1 rating.

This is where the viewership levels started to get a bit odd. Instead of increasing throughout the course of the show, as is normally the case with live UFC specials on Spike TV, the rating stayed at 1.4 for the entire second hour of the broadcast, with statistically negligible fluctuations of just a few hundredths of a ratings point.

It's not that the next fight, Josh Koscheck's unanimous decision victory over Jeff Joslin, turned off viewers in droves, because the rating would have decreased if that were the case. That has actually happened during past UFC live specials when the viewing public dislikes a certain fight, but that's not what happened in this case, as the rating simply stayed at 1.4 for Koscheck vs. Joslin. Koscheck's previous fight on Spike TV was a victory over Jonathan Goulet, which drew a 1.1 rating in the unfavorable "first fight on the live broadcast" slot back in August.

Diego Sanchez knocked out Joe Riggs in the main event, and the viewership increases that usually occur in the minutes before, during, and after the main event fight simply did not happen on this night. Sanchez vs. Riggs drew the same 1.4 rating that was drawn by Koscheck vs. Joslin and by Parisyan vs. Fickett. The main event is almost always the most-watched fight on UFC live event broadcasts, even when it's a short fight like Sanchez vs. Riggs. Heck, even the fight between Matt Serra and Chris Lytle back in November, which was generally regarded as not being a very exciting fight, was still the most-watched fight of the night.

It's not as if Diego Sanchez isn't a ratings draw in general, because he is. His fight against Karo Parisyan back in August caused the viewership level to jump a whopping 50 percent from 1.4 for the previous fight (Chris Leben vs. Jorge Santiago) to 2.1 for Sanchez vs. Parisyan.

At the time, the 2.1 rating that was drawn by Sanchez vs. Parisyan was largely chalked up to Sanchez' ratings-drawing power and the fact that it was a great fight. However, looking back on it now, given the trends in the viewership levels on this show in December (ie, Sanchez' fight did not lead to a jump in viewership on this night, while Parisyan's fight did lead to a jump in viewership), it's pretty clear that Parisyan is a ratings draw in his own right and also deserves a lot of the credit for the strong rating that was drawn by Sanchez vs. Parisyan back in August.

UFC Fight Night is Spike TV's Lead-In of Choice, and UFN 7 Was No Exception
It becomes increasingly clear with each passing UFC Fight Night broadcast that these events are serving two purposes: One, which almost seems secondary at times in the marketing on Spike TV, is for the UFC broadcasts to draw strong ratings in and of themselves. The other purpose, from Spike's perspective, is to use these UFC events as lead-ins to whatever new show Spike is trying to push during any particular month.

While this puts the UFC in awkward positions with live fight broadcasts on nights that aren't ideal (such as Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday), it also puts the UFC in a stronger position come contract renewal time if Spike is able to launch successful new series or specials off the back of UFC broadcasts. Let's not forget, the UFC itself (in the form of The Ultimate Fighter) was launched on Spike TV with the benefit of having one of the highest-rated weekly series on cable television, WWE Raw, as its lead-in.

On the first occasion that a live UFC broadcast was used in the role of a lead-in that would heavily hype the show to follow, the premiere of Blade: The Series drew a 2.0 overall rating on Wednesday, June 28th, following a UFC Fight Night broadcast that drew a 1.4 overall rating. Not only did Blade retain the UFC's audience, but it actually increased it. The UFC did everything that it could to make Blade: The Series a success with numerous plugs on the Fight Night broadcast, and for one night, it worked exceedingly well.

Unfortunately, that's exactly how long it lasted: One night. Without the UFC as a consistent lead-in, the ratings for Blade: The Series collapsed, as it drew a 1.1 overall rating in Week 2. The entire season of Blade as a whole averaged a 1.0 overall rating, and it was subsequently cancelled by Spike TV.

The next time that a live UFC broadcast was used to help boost another show on Spike TV came on October 10th, when a live fight card headlined by Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock blew away every UFC ratings record in the book with a 3.1 overall rating. On that night, the hype was heavy for the "Scream Awards," a new awards show on Spike TV for horror and fantasy-themed entertainment. The Scream Awards drew a 0.9 overall rating, which is nothing short of disastrous for a show with a 3.1 lead-in.

Last week, UFC Fight Night 7 led into and hyped the 2006 Spike TV Video Game Awards (or VGAs), which drew a disappointing 0.5 overall rating. While there's no way to say that a 0.5 overall rating is anything short of a disappointment, the VGAs were actually less of a disaster than the Scream Awards because the VGAs had a much smaller lead-in audience from which to draw.

The Video Game Awards retained 43 percent of the UFC's overall lead-in rating, compared to the Scream Awards' 29 percent retention rate of its UFC lead-in audience. In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, the VGAs retained 47 percent of the UFC lead-in audience, compared to 29 percent for the Scream Awards. Finally, in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, the VGAs retained 43 percent of the UFC lead-in audience, compared to 28 percent for the Scream Awards.

As you might expect, the next edition of UFC Fight Night on Spike TV is scheduled to coincide with the launch of a major show on Spike TV. UFC Fight Night 8 on January 25, 2007 will lead into the second season premiere of the Spike TV reality series Pros vs. Joes, featuring a list of athletes that includes Randy Couture. Given that the promise of a Chuck Liddell appearance on Blade: The Series (which was basically a 30-second cameo) seemed to help Blade retain and build on the UFC's lead-in audience last June, and given the fact that Couture is actually a significant part of Pros vs. Joes Season Two, it's likely that Pros vs. Joes will do a much better job of retaining its UFC lead-in audience than either the Video Game Awards or the Scream Awards.

Head-to-Head Network Competition
Airing head-to-head with UFC Fight Night 7 on Wednesday, December 13th from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM, the first half of The Biggest Loser's season finale on NBC won the hour with a 6.6 overall rating. Two new episodes of the CBS comedy King of Queens averaged a 5.9 overall rating, while a new episode of Bones drew a 5.4 overall rating on Fox. The William Shatner-hosted Show Me the Money drew a 4.4 overall rating on ABC, continuing the show's downward trend and leading to ABC's decision to cancel the series two days later.

Airing head-to-head with the UFC in the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour, the final hour of NBC's Biggest Loser finale drew an 8.5 overall rating, but it was outdrawn by a new episode of the CBS drama Criminal Minds, which drew a 10.3 overall rating. Fox essentially threw in the towel on this hour by scheduling a repeat of Bones to air right after a new episode of Bones, and viewers reacted in kind, with the repeat of Bones drawing a rating of just 3.9. The biggest story of the night on network TV came in this hour as a fresh installment of the new ABC drama Day Break absolutely bombed. The show drew a 2.8 overall rating, which is the kind of rating that can lead to an immediate cancellation on network TV, and that is exactly what happened in this case. ABC announced a little more than 24 hours later than Day Break has been cancelled, effective immediately, with seven remaining episodes having been produced but not aired.

Three days prior to UFC Fight Night, the 60 Minutes segment on mixed martial arts was part of an episode of 60 Minutes that was watched by approximately 15.8 million people. This made 60 Minutes the #4 most-watched program on all of television for the week of December 4 to 10, behind only CSI, Sunday Night Football, and Deal or No Deal. A week later on December 17th, 60 Minutes' ratings were down nine percent, dropping the series from #4 to #13 on the weekly list of television's most-watched shows.

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