by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
The twelfth and final episode of The Ultimate Fighter 4’s regular season tied the series’ all-time low once again with a 1.0 overall rating on Thursday, November 2nd.
Episode Nine set the series’ new all-time low for a regularly scheduled new episode by drawing a 1.0 overall rating on October 12th, then Episode Eleven tied that mark on October 26th, and finally Episode Twelve tied that mark once again on November 2nd.
The actual fight on Episode Twelve (Patrick Cote vs. Edwin Dewees) drew a 1.0 rating, which ties it with Chris Lytle vs. Din Thomas as the least-watched fights of the season.
Low Regular Season Ratings Do Not Necessarily Equal Low Finale Ratings
While it would seem that TUF has no ratings momentum heading into the November 11th live season finale of TUF 4, that does not necessarily mean that the live finale isn’t going to draw strong ratings.
One needs look no further than TUF’s own ratings history to see that. The second season of The Ultimate Fighter limped across the finish line with low viewership levels for the end of its regular season, yet the live season finale of TUF 2 drew a fantastic 2.0 overall rating, which made it the UFC’s most-watched live fight special up to that point in time.
When it comes to the UFC, the ratings for new episodes of TUF are a different beast altogether than the ratings for live fight specials. The TUF 2 finale ratings demonstrate that, and an even more jarring example came just a few weeks ago. A new episode of The Ultimate Fighter drew an overall rating of just 1.1 on October 5th, and then the two-hour live fight special that was headlined by Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock drew a 3.1 overall rating on October 10th (shattering every UFC ratings record in the book), and just two days later the next new episode of TUF drew a series-low 1.0 overall rating.
So, in a way, the disconnect between “TUF viewers” and “UFC live fight special viewers” should be encouraging for Spike TV and the UFC. Yes, TUF 4’s significantly decreased ratings are likely to make the ad rates for future seasons of TUF lower than they otherwise would have been, but the ad rates for live fight specials (including the live TUF finales) should be staying the same or going up because the UFC has still been able to deliver when it comes to live fight special viewership.
This trend also means that it would be a mistake to assume that the live season finale of TUF 4 is going to draw a disappointing rating. It may or may not draw a disappointing rating, but one cannot accurately assume that a live TUF finale is going to draw a low rating just because the regular season has been drawing less-than-stellar ratings.
Episode Twelve’s Ratings Collapse in Key Demographics
The overall rating of 1.0 that was drawn by Episode Twelve of TUF 4 may be troubling for the UFC and Spike TV, but the most alarming aspect of Episode Twelve’s ratings was not the overall rating; it was the dramatic drop-off in the key demographic ratings.
Among 18-to-49-year-old males, Episode Twelve drew a 1.1 rating, which is a new low for the season and is down significantly from the previous week’s 1.5 rating in the same demographic.
In the most advertiser-coveted demographic, 18-to-34-year-old males, Episode Twelve drew a 1.3 rating, which was down significantly from the previous week’s 1.8 rating in the same demographic. The rating of 1.3 was the lowest of the season in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic; the previous low for TUF 4 was 1.7.
In fact, Episode Twelve of TUF 4 was the least watched episode in Ultimate Fighter history in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic. The previous series low in this demographic was 1.5, which was drawn by the very first episode of TUF’s first season.
Overall Rating Stays at 1.0 Despite Drastically Decreased Sports Competition
While it would be natural to assume that head-to-head sports competition has a direct negative effect on TUF’s ratings, that has proven to be untrue time and time again throughout the series’ history, as previously documented by MMAWeekly.
Prior to this week, the most recent example was that Episode Ten and Episode Eleven of TUF 4 went head-to-head with a virtually identical level of head-to-head sports competition (NLCS Game 7 drew a rating within one percent of World Series Game 5), and yet TUF’s overall rating dropped 20 percent from Episode Ten to Episode Eleven.
In the case of Episode Twelve, it faced a drastically decreased level of sports competition, so one would think that it would have drawn a higher rating if head-to-head sports competition had any significant effect on TUF’s ratings.
However, once again, that wasn’t the case. Episode Eleven and Episode Twelve of TUF 4 both drew the same overall rating (1.0), despite the fact that Episode Twelve only went head-to-head with sports programming that drew a combined 7.8 million viewers, while Episode Eleven had to go head-to-head with sports programming that drew a combined 18.6 million viewers.
If head-to-head sports competition had any significant effect on TUF’s ratings, a 58 percent drop-off in head-to-head sports competition would have led to at least a small ratings increase in TUF, but it didn’t.
For the record, the head-to-head ratings breakdown for those episodes is as follows: Episode Eleven of TUF went head-to-head with the World Series on Fox (16.1 million viewers) and college football on ESPN (1.4 million viewers), for a combined head-to-head sports viewership of 18.6 million. Episode Twelve of TUF went head-to-head with college football on ESPN (6.4 million viewers) and the NBA on TNT (1.4 million viewers), for a combined head-to-head sports viewership of 7.8 million.
It’s also not just a case of the bigger college football game on November 2nd drawing away more of the young male audience. On October 26th, up against Episode Eleven of TUF, a combined 8.4 percent of the 18-to-49-year-old males in the United States were watching either the World Series or college football on ESPN. On November 2nd, up against Episode Twelve of TUF, a lower percentage (5.3) of the 18-to-49-year-old males in the United States were watching either college football on ESPN or the NBA on TNT.
Head-to-Head Network Competition on November 2nd
Episode Twelve of The Ultimate Fighter 4 did face stiffer competition from the major broadcast networks on November 2nd, although TUF’s competition was nowhere near as difficult as the competition faced by its lead-in, UFC Unleashed.
A repeat of UFC Unleashed aired from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM on Spike TV and drew an overall rating of 0.8, head-to-head with two of the most-watched shows on television. A new episode of Grey’s Anatomy on ABC drew a 13.9 overall rating, while a new episode of CSI on CBS drew a 12.8 overall rating. Meanwhile, the season premiere of The OC on Fox drew a 2.3 overall rating, which is an embarrassingly bad rating for network television and would almost certainly lead to an immediate cancellation if it wasn’t an already established show. The ratings for The OC collapsed in the 2005-2006 TV season and have collapsed further with the first episode of the 2006-2007 TV season. Also in the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour, Deal or No Deal on NBC drew a 7.9 overall rating.
Going head-to-head with The Ultimate Fighter in the 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM hour, a new episode of ER on NBC narrowly beat out a new episode of Shark on CBS, as ER drew a 9.0 overall rating and Shark drew an 8.9 overall rating. Fox does not air national programming in the 10:00 PM hour, and ABC’s Six Degrees was a non-factor with a 5.3 overall rating. While ABC may or may not spare Six Degrees the indignity of being abruptly pulled in the middle of November sweeps, the chances of the show being around next season (or even at the end of this season) are almost zero, due to its low ratings.
Airing immediately after The Ultimate Fighter from 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM on Spike TV, the pro wrestling show TNA Impact drew an overall rating 0.8 for the third consecutive week. TNA Impact is bumping UFC Unleashed from the Thursday at 9:00 PM timeslot starting on November 16th, and the move comes at a time when neither series has much in the way of ratings momentum.