FUEL TV scores early ratings hits with UFC

Thanks in large part to the 646 hours of UFC programming it aired, FUEL TV recorded the largest percentage increases of total viewers among all rated, ad-supported cable networks in both the Total Day and Prime Time categories for the first quarter of 2012. But the network still has a ways to go to catch prior UFC-broadcaster Spike TV.

The UFC telecasts helps propel FUEL TV to its most-watched quarter since its launch in 2003, according to a Nielsen report released by the network. FUEL TV saw a 100 percent increase in total viewers and a 125 percent increase in males ages 18 to 49, the most-coveted category for advertisers.

“The expanded demographic opens us up to targeting new advertisers who seek males 21 and up,” said George Greenberg, executive vice president and general manager of FUEL TV. “We are seeing significant ad sales growth in these areas.”

Although the 90-day numbers are huge for FUEL TV, the network still lags the viewership Spike TV attracted for some of the same programming in the past.

Greenberg addressed this last week on a media conference call: "If you’re going to start comparing numbers to Spike, which is virtually three times our distribution and had the product for six, seven years -- let’s remember, they launched their network on the back of the UFC and that’s exactly why they are where they are today, because of the distribution power they were given by the UFC.”

FUEL TV is available in about 36 million households, while Spike TV is in about 100 million.

The three preliminary UFC events that aired on FUEL TV during the first quarter averaged 135,000 viewers, while the last three preliminary events on Spike TV in 2011 averaged 1.4 million viewers. However, fellow FOX network station FX, whose distribution is nearly identical to Spike TV’s, averaged 1.3 million viewers for preliminary rounds during the first quarter.

FUEL TV also has ground to make up to catch Spike TV in terms of ratings for live events. UFC on FUEL TV 1, which aired Feb. 15, had 217,000 viewers. (Ratings information from this past Saturday’s UFC on FUEL TV 2 is not yet available.)

By comparison, the past five events on Spike in 2011 and 2010 garnered an average 1.7 million viewers. Events on FX so far this year have averaged 1.4 million viewers. Events shown nationally on FOX, however, have come in strong at 5.7 million and 4.7 million viewers, the former being the most-watched UFC event ever.