SBJ/Dec. 2-8, 2013/Media

Fox Sports: Viewer numbers change with ‘Ultimate Fighter”

One of UFC’s signature TV shows — “The Ultimate Fighter” — suffered a 22 percent viewership drop this season, its first on Fox Sports 1.

The series, which wrapped up its 18th season over the weekend, averaged 648,000 viewers this year, down from last year’s 832,000 viewer average on FX.

But Fox Sports executives say these figures aren’t telling the whole story. They say the August launch of two all-sports channels has taught them to view ratings of certain program genres differently, like documentaries and entertainment series. With live-sports programming, the same-day viewership figure is critically important. With a competition reality show like “The Ultimate Fighter,” overall consumption — including re-airs and DVR usage — is more important, said Mike Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming and research for Fox Sports.

“I know that people are going to be inclined to focus on the live-plus-same-day number,” he said. “But what we’re trying to do is look at it more the way that Fox Entertainment executives would look at scripted shows and competition reality shows on their prime-time schedules and really take into account viewing beyond just the originally scheduled time period.”

Same-day viewership for “The Ultimate Fighter” is down, but overall consumption of the series is up 8 percent over last year. Through Nov. 21, “The Ultimate Fighter” had attracted 14.844 million viewers this year through 163 airings on the two sports channels plus DVR users. Last year, the series pulled in 13.8 million viewers through 24 airings on FX and DVR users.

Fox Sports and UFC were expecting a drop in the same-day ratings this year, considering that FX is in 8.7 million more homes than Fox Sports 1. FX is in 96.715 million homes, and Fox Sports 1 is in 87.991 million. While same-day viewership is off 22 percent, live-plus-seven-day viewership is down only 10 percent and it showed an increase in its male 18-49 and male 25-54 demos, Mulvihill said.

“This is a learning experience for us,” Mulvihill said. “We’ve had to adjust our thinking in terms of scheduling for basic cable and having 168 hours a week to fill. I look at shows like ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ that might run five times in a 24-hour period. It works. It is perfectly OK for cable networks to run their signature properties as often as they do.”

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