Despite Success, Will Showtime Bail on Strikeforce?

Strikeforce's ability to draw in the coveted 18-34 demographic that Showtime craves ensures a continued partnership. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's been a little over one week since Brazilian giant Antonio Silva emphatically stamped his place into the history books as the second man to beat the once invincible Fedor Emelianenko. The victory sent shockwaves through the mixed martial arts community, sparking debates among fans and media alike regarding Fedor's status as one of the greatest of all-time and whether he should retire from the sport.

Many media outlets focused heavily on the concern that Strikeforce may not be able to create enough interest to sustain the considerable ratings they gained from the card with a couple going so far as to questioning whether Showtime would eventually cut mixed martial arts from their programming in 2012 if things snowballed catastrophically from his exclusion. While the end result of the argument is a possibility, the catalyst for such a disaster materializing is as far-fetched an idea as those fans who believe Fedor isn't a historical figure in the annals of mixed martial arts.

The important evidence supporting Showtime's continued interest in the sport stems from their failures over the course of the last five years. While CBS, the parent company of Showtime, netted roughly $13 to $14 billion dollars in revenue between 2006 and 2009, a net loss of $11.6 billion dollars in 2008 caused many industry experts to question CBS's future and foresight in producing content for a younger generation of consumers. CBS's programming has reached a younger audience over the past five years with shows like How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, but the inability to bring the coveted 18-34 male demographic to Showtime has been a tougher nut to crack.

Consumers, in general, have shifted their interest from a fictitious setting to real people with real stories. With the advent of Youtube and the success of reality shows like The Jersey Shore, it's evident that the ratings game has changed considerably. Showtime isn't attracting those consumers despite having quality shows like Dexter in their arsenal. Showtime Sports is a way in which they can bridge the gap, and last Saturday's ratings prove that Strikeforce and mixed martial arts are doing exactly what they were tasked to do -- improve Showtime's programming and pull in a younger audience.

A peak rating of 3.2 (1.1 million viewers) during the main event showdown between Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva proves that the once struggling network has found a way to draw in the younger demographic. While many fans have focused on unfairly comparing these ratings to the UFC, ratings on a subscription-based network like Showtime have a very different meaning. Quarterly ratings and averages throughout an entire broadcast are the focal point of the network ratings game as more advertising dollars can be generated from a show that consistently draws in an audience over the span of the show.

For Showtime, subscriptions are the key to creating revenue, not advertising dollars. With a peak viewership of 1.1 million, Strikeforce is not only proving there is a demand from existing subscribers, but it is also providing an attractive option for consumers looking for prominent mixed martial arts action that is at a peak in popularity. Furthermore, the gap between the average and peak numbers may be an indication that Showtime gained subscriptions over the course of the evening. In a general sense, it shows that Showtime needs Strikeforce as much as Strikeforce needs Showtime.

The key point to remember is that the more views that Strikeforce gains over the course of this year, the more money CBS will be willing to pump into the promotion. Strikeforce likely won't draw 1 million viewers per show, but a steady draw of 700 to 800k viewers would go a long way into securing Strikeforce's standing as a reliable drawing power versus a fad. If Strikeforce can lock down more money in 2012 due to their continued success, we could see more shows and bigger names in the fold in a couple of years.

Showtime won't be making a grand exit from mixed martial arts any time soon. The deal with Strikeforce is set to end in 2012, but it will take a failure of epic proportions for a new deal to be passed on by the executives at CBS. With the return of Gina Carano and potential of Alistair Overeem becoming the next great heavyweight superstar, Strikeforce has plenty of ways in which it can attract fans, even if Fedor Emelianenko appears to be mortal. 

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