FX vice president Chuck Saftler is absolutely happy with what they've been able to do thus far on Friday nights, even as the series itself is hitting a low in terms of viewership. Still, Saftler believes patience is key, and though there will be constant evaluation as to how things are progressing, he doesn't see a reason to move away from Friday nights yet simply because of some early ratings woes.
"I think the way to look at it is this way: Saturday night is also a very difficult night, and the ratings for UFC product on a Saturday night are fantastic," Saftler said in an interview with MMAJunkie.com. "In fact, when you look at the fact that's where their 'Fight Nights' are, where their pay-per-views are, Saturday has not been a hinderance for the UFC. Friday night has very similar characteristics to Saturday night. They're both nights that guys go out."
"So I think it's about having the patience of getting people to understand where it is more than it being a bad night of the week. Because again, what we've seen with the four preliminaries that we've had for pay-per-views on Saturdays, we've seen each one grow over the other, and that's part of that learning curve of where you're going to find the preliminary fights on pay-per-view nights. Viewers are coming to understand that is on FX. We as a network look at Friday night as an opportunity. We still believe that there's something there."
Saftler points to heavy counter-programming and market confusion from the UFC's former home Spike TV, and a general learning curve that comes from moving to a new network as contributing factors to the lower start. That said, FX and the UFC believe Fridays can be a great night for the program, and at least through this fall's second season on the network, that's where it's going to stay.
"I do believe that some seasonality played into some of the ratings challenges that we've seen," Saftler said. "We launched a spring season at the same time that Daylight Savings Time was kicking in. Spring breaks were kicking in. That does complicate Friday night, as well. But we are going to stick with Friday nights. We're going to stick with Friday nights for the fall season, and we do have a strong belief that Friday nights will in fact become quite successful for 'The Ultimate Fighter.'"
"We'll also be very self-honest about the results that we see, and we will do what we do with all problems, which is constantly evaluate the results. If we don't see these results get better, then we're going to look at what other options are out there. But right now, we still have a strong belief that Friday night is a great night to watch this program and to experience the UFC much in the same way that Saturday night has grown into a fantastic night for the UFC, as well."
Penick's Analysis: This is absolutely something that takes time and patience, but even then Friday may not be the night that gets them where they want to be from a ratings standpoint. Of course, if they can make it a destination night for TUF and for UFC programming, eventually they can get a larger stronghold on ratings, but it will be something they'll need to evaluate and tweak over the next couple of years. It appears that's what they plan on doing; results of those evaluations will come over the next several seasons, and it will be something that will be examined elsewhere as they go along.