In which our author brings two of his favorite analogies back into play. Boom-era pro wrestling, and food.
Because I know what you guys truly want is more professional wrestling talk, allow me to indulge you! (ducks tomato)
From 1995 to 2001, the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling were at each other's throats over one very simple, very specific thing. Not wrestlers, not money, not territories, merchandising, press, or even public opinion. No, what those two companies would slander each other to win, what they would steal talent to win, what they would spoil the other company's results on live television to win was one thing, and one thing only: Ratings.
Oh, the beloved television ratings. You couldn't escape them! They had their own sidebar on every wrestling website you could find. In every wrestling newsletter or magazine, they had ratings breakdowns for every show, every week. On weeks where WWF was pre-empted by the AKC Dog Show, they showed those ratings, when WCW was pre-empted so the Braves could choke in the playoffs, they showed those ratings against USA's pre-empted programs. It was pure madness. We, as fans, were more familiar with those ratings than our own grand-point-averages. "Oh shit, did you see RAW got a 4.2?" "Damn, what did Nitro do?" "3.5, but the breakdown was higher in the first hour when they were on unopposed." "Yeah, that tends to happen, but Raw's 10:-10:15 took a hit because Nitro countered with a Mysterio-Kidman match that....".
So on and so forth would the discussions go. You could lose your mind talking about the breakdowns, the demographics, the lead-in, the follow-out, all those things that make television executives drive off cliffsides in Beverly Hills is what we wrestling dorks would discuss at length.
Here we are once again with the god-blessed ratings. The all-knowing all-encompassing ratings. Mooby the Golden Calf without a children's book rights. They're antiquated, out-of-touch, technologically retarded, inconvienant relics of gauging television viewership, and yet (sigh), it's the best we've friggin got.
It also stands to prove, that even though the numbers themselves can be skewed, in a macro sense, they do, mostly, give us an indication of a show's health and perception.
So, fine, we're stuck with it and UFC on Fox's numbers stunk. So, what's the problem here? You've to catch up on Game of Thrones, for Christ's sakes.
The problem is that the entire basis of using ratings as a measuring stick for the episode that the ratings show, is abjectly wrong.
Confused? I'll try to help.
Say you're at a deli, and feel like a sandwich. You look at the specials and see they have a Pastrami with Havarti and mustard on rye. Hmm. You've never tried pastrami personally (and if that's the case we can't be friends), but you've always heard about it and wanted to check it out. You place your order and wait by the end of the counter.
Now at this specific instant, what are the odds that you'll order that sandwich again? Hell if you know, right? You haven't even tried it yet! Would it be safe to assume that you would have a much, much clearer, succinct opinion on your future purchasing of the Pastrami on rye once you've eaten said sandwich? Of course.
That first option, in a nutshell, is how people who kneel to ratings look at television viewership.
Back in our days of wrestling, people used to see that Nitro got a 3.8 and Raw got a 3.2 and assumed that more people watched Nitro (correct), because Nitro was a better show that night (incorrect). The biggest factor that went in to the ratings for that week's shows, were the quality of the previous shows, ESPECIALLY to casual viewers, which is whom I'm talking about here.
If Dana and Lorenzo and co. are adament on pushing the product over the superstars, then they finally got it right. It took them three shows, but they got it right. In the first FOX show, they pushed the prestige of a UFC Heavyweight Championship fight and extensively profiling only dos Santos and Velasquez (head-scratchingly leaving off Bendo and Guida). When that plan backfired, they focused on name fighters who could actually flesh out the product, instead of a flash knockout. Evans, Davis, Bisping, Sonnen, Maia...these were guys who were very hard to stop early. The problem was that it fizzled because they fleshed it out a little too much, and the fights themselves weren't exciting or dramatic. So third time's a charm, right? The UFC eschews names totally, to the point that they stupidly made almost no-effort to build up ANYONE on the card publicly, especially Miller or Diaz. Regardless, they put eight guys on the main card who have an outstanding mix of technical skill, excitement, and durability, and they finally get that explosive night of fights they wanted. Surely they're scratching their heads today, as are a few of you, I'm sure. But that's how ratings work. Chris Weidman and Demian Maia are more to blame for these miserable ratings than Alan Belcher and Rousimar Palhares. The sky isn't falling for the UFC here? Why?
The power of word-of-mouth is still, in 2012, the most dangerous and cost-efficient advertising strategy in existance today.
Think about some of your favorite things in your life. Favorite TV show, food, beer, hobby, bar. How many of those things were either recommended by a friend, or you heard recommended by others. Just off the top of my head, I can say that my favorite television show (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), beer (Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA), book (Bringing Down the House), and video game series (Mass Effect) were all either recommended by friends, or my friends hounded me and busted my balls until I tried them, as friends do. "Friend Bullying" is very underrated in terms of friendly peer-pressure and word-of-mouth. Immediately the contradictors will point out "Well why didn't didn't the numbers improve if people were telling their friends to tune in? Huh?? Huh brah?!" Because it was a busy night. It was Cinco de Mayo, it was opening weekend for a movie that could possibly go down as the biggest ever that skews absurdly close to MMA-watcher's demographic, the biggest fighter on the planet (of any combat sport) was fighting, the NBA playoffs were on, and it was one of the first warm, spring weekends of the year. On one side of the coin, yes, it is easier than ever to get out word of mouth as something is happening. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc..., but on the flip side, it's also easier to obtain content after the fact. DVR, YouTube, pirating, countless replays, and so forth. As these things mostly do, it comes out in the wash and evens out.
So folks will have heard about the show Sunday shaking off the hangover, Monday at work/class, out at the bar with their buddies during the week, and probably on the day of or before the next UFC event when they'll know someone who wants to watch it.
The point is, the casual fans that did watch UFC on FOX 3, have absolutely nothing but a sterling report to hand in. "Yo, you gotta check out this Diaz kid", "This big bald dude swings like a sledgehammer, YouTube him", "These two guys were trying to rip each other's limbs off, it was intense", so forth. Nate Diaz is a legit star now. Keep an eye on the numbers next time he fights, not this time. Hell, as a product, keep an eye on the next FX or Fuel show and see those numbers.
Building a product from scratch on network television is investment writing and booking. It's not the knockout punch, it's body blows and crisp combos battering the television landscape into your product settling in and becoming a fixture. If the UFC wants to focus on the brand and not the fighters, and we can debate that all day, but as long as the product is consistently good, they'll get the eyes. It wasn't good television in the first two episodes and the numbers suffered in the third, as you would expect of any show on television. They knocked it out of the part in the third. Let's see how they rebound.
Oh, and a little bit of press for your fighters next time won't hurt.