FX made a big play last year snatching up the mixed-marital arts competition The Ultimate Fighter, but the acquisition hasn’t resulted in a ratings knockout so far.
Five weeks into its run, FX’s Ultimate Fighter Live averages 1.1 million viewers, down 21 percent its final season on Spike and down 35 percent from its 2010 average. Friday’s episode hit a low of only 947,000 viewers (though that was probably an anomaly due to the holiday weekend).
Of course, Ultimate Fighter was trending down in the ratings before moving to FX – it’s why Spike didn’t fight harder to keep the franchise in the first place.
And there’s other factors at play.
Spike counter-programmed FX’s Ultimate Fighter Live with Ultimate Fighter repeats, which is … rather funny actually. Bet that didn’t make UFC chief Dana White too happy. The Spike repeats averaged 520,000 viewers. If hypothetically added to FX’s audience, that would have been a sweet number for the new show.
Spike notes it only forced Ultimate Fighter to battle itself for three of FX’s first five episodes, then switched to movies (though reserves the right to use its seven-year archive of Ultimate Fighter repeats to annoy FX in the future). “We have the UFC library until the end of the year and will run it where it strategically makes sense,” says Spike spokesman David Schwarz. Pow!
Another factor is the show not only switched networks, but switched from Wednesday to Friday nights – a move that often hurts shows on broadcast, though cable tends to be less predictable. FX notes the series gains about 30 percent thanks to DVR and expects the series to perform strong over the long haul as more fans figure out the switch. Also, Friday used to be FX’s lowest rated weeknight, and Ultimate Fighter has made it a contender, even if the numbers are not as high as they were on Spike.
As part of the FX deal, the cable network’s big brother Fox agreed to run a quartet of UFC fight specials on Saturday nights. Those have fared better. The two fights that have aired so far averaged 5.2 million viewers and a hearty 2.7 rating in the adult demo.