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Sunday, May 06, 2007
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Ratings Collapse to Record Lows
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Episode Four of TUF 5 drew an overall rating of just 1.0 on Thursday, April 26th. The episode went head-to-head with the NBA Playoffs, but so did several episodes of The Ultimate Fighter 3, which was the most-watched season in the history of TUF.

The overall rating of 1.0 has the dubious distinction of being tied with several episodes of TUF 4 as the lowest-rated episodes in series history. The first four episodes of TUF 5 have drawn overall ratings of 1.4, 1.3, 1.2, and 1.0, respectively.

Perhaps more alarming than the drop in overall viewership was the drastic drop in viewership among the advertiser-coveted demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males. In that demographic, TUF 5 had been averaging a 1.9 rating in its first three episodes (which was already the lowest average in TUF history), but Episode Four drew a 1.1 rating in this demographic. The average for TUF 4 in this demographic was 2.0, and the average for TUF 3 was 2.9.

The same pattern emerged in the viewership patterns of the slightly broader demographic of 18-to-49-year-old males. In that demographic, TUF 5 had been averaging a series-low 1.7 rating through three episodes, but Episode Four drew a 1.1 rating in this demographic as well. The average for TUF 4 in this demographic was 1.6, and the average for TUF 3 was 2.2.

What the Ratings Collapse Means for the UFC, Spike TV, and Advertisers
The fact that TUF 5's ratings are lower than previous seasons' ratings is disappointing for the UFC and Spike TV, but the fact that TUF 5's ratings are lower than the advertiser-quoted expectations is what's likely to actually cost money for the UFC and Spike TV. The overall ratings for TUF 5 (an average of 1.2 through four episodes) are significantly lower than the ratings that the show's advertisers were told to expect according to the Wrestling Observer, which reported for the season premiere an advertiser expectation of a 1.7 overall rating. If the advertising contracts for TUF 5 are structured like most ad deals in the TV industry, the show's advertisers are going to be getting refund checks, make-good spots (basically free commercial slots to make up for the lower viewership) or a combination of both.

With the continued drop in viewership, many fans of the sport have asked via e-mail and message boards whether TUF will be cancelled. The answer is "no," and not necessarily because the ratings are strong enough that it would be completely out of the question based on the ratings alone. If for no other reason, Spike TV is unlikely to cancel TUF because the UFC as a whole is too valuable to Spike TV.

The relationship between the UFC and Spike TV is currently in a crucial time period, as negotiations for the UFC's new contract (and new rights fees) will be starting in the not-too-distant future if they haven't already gotten underway. Spike TV's contract with the UFC expires in the middle of 2008, and the UFC is going to want to secure higher rights fees for the TV programming that it produces, either from Spike TV or from other networks.

The collapse of TUF's ratings does lower the amount of money that the UFC is going to be able to get from Spike TV or any other network for the rights to air its programming. At the same time, Spike TV doesn't want to do anything that would alienate or upset the UFC (such as canceling TUF) because its leverage in negotiations is limited by the fact that the UFC is Spike's #1 provider of original programming.

While these negotiations play out over the next several months, TUF 6 and TUF 7 were already ordered in early 2006, which was the last time that the UFC extended its contract with Spike TV. These two seasons of TUF are likely to air regardless of how high or low the ratings are, as the UFC's management has stated numerous times in the past that they do not believe in "overexposure."

The sixth season of TUF is scheduled to begin filming before the fifth season finishes airing, and it will have a premiere date of August or September 2007. The seventh season of TUF will air sometime in the first half of 2008, which means that it's either going to be filmed in late 2007 for a January 2008 premiere date, or it's going to be filmed in January 2008 for an April 2008 premiere date.

Head-to-Head Network Competition; Plus Other Spike TV Ratings from April 26th
Airing head-to-head on network television with Episode 4 of The Ultimate Fighter 5 on Thursday, April 26th, a new episode of NBC's "ER" came in third place in its timeslot for just the second time in the series' history (the first time was last week). The overall rating of 6.2 for "ER" was beaten by ABC's "October Road," which drew a 6.4 overall rating, and by CBS' "Shark," which drew a 9.4 overall rating. The lead-in for "ER" on NBC is now "Scrubs" (which drew an embarrassing 3.0 overall rating), and this has only served to accelerate the series' rapid decline. In the same timeslot, CBS has a new hit on its hands with "Shark," and the consistent 6's that have been drawn by "October Road" may or may not be enough to warrant a second season order from ABC.

Episode Four of TUF 5 was preceded on Spike by TNA Impact, which drew the same overall rating as TUF (1.0). The episode of UFC Unleashed that followed TUF on April 26th drew an overall rating of 0.8.

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