When FX officials recently confirmed the move of The Ultimate Fighter to Tuesday nights at 9 p.m., the reaction was immediately positive.
The long running reality show had shifted from Spike TV to FX as part of the UFC’s move to the Fox family of networks, but due to programming and timing, The Ultimate Fighter was placed on Friday nights at 10 p.m., a notoriously tough spot in which to perform.
When The Ultimate Fighter aired on Spike TV for 14 seasons, it typically averaged between 1.5 and 2 million viewers per episode. Sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but at the 10 p.m. slot on Wednesdays, it was a fairly constant series for the network.
Since the move to Friday nights on FX, however, The Ultimate Fighter has struggled to stay above even 1 million viewers, and routinely has dipped well below the million-viewer mark.
The shift to Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. is not only a new time and day, but also surrounds The Ultimate Fighter with some of FX’s most popular programming. Season 17 of the reality show will begin two weeks after the popular drama Justified returns to the airwaves for its fourth season.
In the fall, The Ultimate Fighter will be flanked by the most popular show on all of FX, the outlaw biker drama Sons of Anarchy.
Now typically a new show airing on a new night hoping to benefit from a strong, established program like Justified or Sons of Anarchy would air following the broadcast, but in the case of both of those shows, that would put The Ultimate Fighter at a very difficult 11 p.m. start time.
Instead, FX will move The Ultimate Fighter to 9 p.m. ahead of the popular shows in hopes of building a stronghold on the key demographics they are trying to reach on Tuesday nights.
But what about the competition that already runs at 9 p.m.? What do the ratings for The Ultimate Fighter tell us moving forward? Let’s take a look at everything – by the numbers.
One of the first things people started to notice the moment that the move for The Ultimate Fighter to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. was announced was the fact that it would be running opposite the very popular NCIS: Los Angeles show currently airing on CBS.
Now first off, NCIS airs on a network television station, so immediately it has to be known that more people are able to view that program than anything airing on FX or any other premium cable station.
Looking at the ratings for NCIS, however, it can’t be ignored that it’s an extremely popular show, seemingly growing as each episode passes.
In its current fourth season, NCIS: Los Angeles has pulled in between 15 to 18 million viewers per episode. The Nov. 21 episode raked in 14.49 million viewers, while the Nov. 28 episode came away with 15.13 million viewers, according to TVBytheNumbers.com.
Those numbers are definitely impressive, but it’s worth noting that in the world of ratings and advertising dollars it’s not as much about how many people are watching as how old that group happens to be.
In a study done in 2011 by Entertainment Weekly, NCIS: Los Angeles rated in the top five of shows with viewers over the age of 50. 11.6 million of their weekly viewers were over the age of 50, which means a lot in terms of advertising dollars being spent on the show.
You see, NCIS: Los Angeles, while a ratings juggernaut in terms of total viewers, pulls in much lower numbers in the coveted 18-49 demographic. That demographic is seen by advertisers as the key people that are likely to spend money on a product advertised on any particular television show.
As explained by representatives of the Nielsen ratings system, the United States is an “aging country,” which means there are more people in the age group 50 and above than a key demographic like 18-34-year-olds. So naturally if there are more people in that group, more people will be able to watch that program.
That’s why ratings numbers for a show like NCIS: Los Angeles are huge in total number, but their turnaround in value to the advertising dollar isn’t as much as a show targeting the coveted 18-34-year-old market.
For instance, in 2010 in a study conducted by Advertising Age, the average cost of a 30-second commercial was figured by speaking to top advertisers who work with television shows and networks.
A show like Glee, which airs on Fox, that averaged just around 10 million viewers for its first two seasons, demands a much higher price tag for a commercial airing during its one-hour broadcast than NCIS, which aired at the same time and had a much bigger viewer base, averaging around 19 million viewers per episode in 2010.
In 2010, the average cost of a 30-second commercial airing during Glee cost advertisers just over $272,000, while a spot airing during NCIS only commanded just over $150,000.
Why the dramatic difference?
Because Glee delivered the key demographics from 18-49, while NCIS was focused on a much older crowd, once again with the majority of viewers being over 50 years of age.
So what bearing does that have on The Ultimate Fighter you ask?
Well, The Ultimate Fighter and all of the UFC’s programming for that matter is targeted directly at 18-34 year old males, the prime share space of advertising dollars being spent. Companies like Bud Light, Harley Davidson, and other giants look directly at that demographic as the biggest spending and key area in which to target their dollars.
If The Ultimate Fighter can deliver that key demographic for FX on Tuesday nights, then it will be a ratings winner, but more importantly it will be an advertising winner.
It’s also interesting to note that FX comes in second only to MTV with the youngest viewing audience in all of television with the average viewer being 38 years of age.
Now, let’s take a look at the company that The Ultimate Fighter will now share on Tuesday nights, and what that time slot has already been commanding with no original programming airing there.
Just looking at the last two weeks of programming FX has aired a re-run movie in the time slot directly in front of their 10 p.m. original show Sons of Anarchy.
On Nov. 21, the movie airing in the 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. timeslot pulled in an average of 1.9 million viewers, while the Nov. 28 movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” running from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. averaged 1.27 million viewers.
Those are very solid numbers considering the movies were both airing opposite programs like NCIS on CBS and were not first-run original programming.
If The Ultimate Fighter debuts on Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. and pulls in anything above those types of numbers, it’s already a success especially considering the demographic it will deliver.
Now, The Ultimate Fighter will serve as a lead-in for shows like Sons of Anarchy and Justified, so it’s not a fair comparison to look at their ratings and think they could have a dribble down effect on the fighting reality show. Where The Ultimate Fighter benefits, however, is the constant barrage of advertising done by FX to promote shows like Sons of Anarchy and Justified, and it’s easily attached with a second message saying “following The Ultimate Fighter.”
Immediately, The Ultimate Fighter is now tagged to two of the most popular shows on FX. And just for number’s sake, Sons of Anarchy not only delivers in ratings, like this season which often pulled in more than 5 million viewers per episode, it even beat out network television when it came to the key 18-49 demographic.
When talking advertising dollars, those numbers are what matter most and shows like Sons of Anarchy and Justified deliver them, and the hope for FX is that The Ultimate Fighter will do the same thing on Tuesday nights.
Now all of those numbers can easily make your head spin, but the key to remember is The Ultimate Fighter moving to Tuesdays is a good thing. Friday night is typically a death sentence for television programming where the top rated shows for the night rarely ever break 5 million viewers, and most shows like WWE Smackdown, which targets the same demographic as the UFC, averages around 2.5 million viewers.
Nielsen figures in things like DVR and TIVO playbacks so long as they are done on the same day, and as you can probably figure out, anybody who is recording The Ultimate Fighter at 10 p.m. on Friday night isn’t likely to play it back the same day, so those numbers don’t get figured into the final daily ratings. It’s much more likely the DVR crowd will now benefit The Ultimate Fighter on Tuesdays.
Standard sports programming typically doesn’t increase or decrease based on DVR numbers because most people want to watch those events live, but a show like The Ultimate Fighter that is already pre-taped could benefit massively from viewers who record the show and watch it later that night.
The Ultimate Fighter will immediately benefit from the move, and also hopefully the earlier start time for younger fans who want to tune in and watch the show at 9 p.m., as well as the coveted 18-49 demographic that will already be tuning in to watch shows like Sons of Anarchy or Justified.
It also can’t be ignored that while original programming like Sons of Anarchy can routinely cost between $2 million and $3 million per episode to produce, a reality show like The Ultimate Fighter comes at a minimal cost to both the UFC and FX.
When the first TUF 17 TV ratings are released, the key to remember is that demographic that the UFC and FX are targeting. If they deliver there, then the new Tuesday night Ultimate Fighter will easily be deemed a success.