Throughout the second half of 2008, observers of UFC television ratings have noticed a change in the composition of the audience. The audience is getting older, and the ratings breakdown of Ultimate Fight Night 16 provides yet another example. As opposed to being entertainment solely for the 18-34 crowd, UFC fights are drawing a decent amount of older viewers. As you can see in the breakdown at MMA Payout, the 18-49 rating is stronger than the 18-34 rating in a way that it simply wasn't in the past:
“UFC Fight For The Troops” earned a 1.43 household rating — a 1.72 in Men 18-49, a 1.30 in People 18-49, a 1.62 in Men 18-34, and an average audience of 2.0 million viewers.
The audience for The Ultimate Fighter is also getting older according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
Ultimate Fighter on 12/3 saw the first hour do a 1.28 rating and 1.6 million viewers, and the second hour did a 1.21 rating and 1.6 million viewers. The trend of the viewers getting older continued, as the shows did a 1.43 in Males 18-34 and 1.71 in Males 35-49.
What caused the change? On MMA Nation, Dave Meltzer speculated that it was the CBS shows that brought in older viewers who stuck around. It seems like a plausible theory, but regardless of the cause, it's a serious trend that has continued over the last 6 months. What does it mean for the UFC? On one hand, bringing in more 35-49 viewers isn't going to help them with the advertisers lining up to get at the 18-34 demographic. On the other hand, these older viewers are more likely to have disposable income to spend on PPV. It's possible that this trend explains the growth in PPV buys in the second half of this year, though there are numerous causes. This has to be considered a change for the better, considering the fact that the UFC's revenue is overwhelmingly driven by PPV numbers. The 18-49 demographic is also the second most targeted demographic, so it's not as if they've started drawing women over 60 or something, it is still a good thing for advertisers.
The people at the UFC are very aware of this trend, the question is how they are going to respond to it. The 35-49 demographic is hardly the "Manswers" crowd, and I don't think they will be all that interested in the antics from this season of The Ultimate Fighter.
A drop in viewers among 18-34 year old males has been mitigated by an increase among older viewers, which has kept ratings relatively steady. Is the drop among younger viewers a reason for concern? I think the answer could be yes in the long run, but that was always a possibility with a young audience prone to quickly jumping from fad to fad. Gaining a foothold among older viewers is a very important step for long term stability.
UPDATE [ from Luke Thomas]: Here's the interview with Dave Meltzer for those who wish to hear it.