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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
I do not understand the decision by Bellator and Viacom to move to Friday nights next year. Saturday was not working out for them with an erratic level of viewership from week to week, but Friday night is not going to be much better. They are again sharing a night with other MMA programming instead of carving out a night to themselves, and once again they will have issues sustaining viewers on a week to week basis.
By moving to Friday nights, they're avoiding UFC pay-per-view events as competition, but with The Ultimate Fighter and live events coming to Fridays on FX, they will similarly be sharing the spotlight, and getting a minority of the coverage.
Friday is already a poor day for television viewership in the first place, and to be overshadowed again by live UFC programming on top of that fact isn't going to help them expand their audience, and could continue to harm their growth.
Maybe they feel the offset of the television audience is getting more people into a venue on Friday night than sometime during the week, but even that is a faulty idea. They can sell tickets any night of the week, they just have to have a timeslot that works and they have to be able to market the events better than they have in the past for the venues they do run.
They had a perfect night of their own with Thursdays when they were on the Fox Sports Network, but the FSN deal was hampered by tape delays and spotty carriage due to local affiliate programming. Had they not had those issues, they could have really made themselves the must-see program for MMA fans on that day of the week. They would have been the go-to for Thursday nights, and with the quality of fights that they continue to bring MMA fans, they would have brought in a steady audience.
Now, they're missing out on a very big opportunity to claim Wednesday nights during the week. With The Ultimate Fighter moving out of the Wednesday night slot, MMA fans that were regular watchers of the reality show don't have a weekly Wednesday night fix. Bellator would have been a great replacement on that night, even as the UFC begins to run occasional events on Fuel.
Even Tuesday nights would work for getting Bellator into their own spot and getting the organization out of the UFC's shadow during the week. More attention could be paid to them on all fronts if they're not going up against the UFC week in and week out, whether it's with just one live fight a week or many.
Obviously there are issues with running during the week, the chief of which is getting a timeslot that works for bringing in a live audience and a television audience, but they were already in that slot on Saturday's for the most part. A 9PM ET start time for a two-hour Bellator broadcast can work any of these days even if it's a slight overlap with dinner time on the west coast.
Perhaps this is a test run to see how Fridays work, as they've discussed messing with the day and time of the shows in 2012 before making the move to Spike TV. I hope that's the case, and this isn't a longterm plan, as again they are very likely going to be up against the same issues on Friday night that have hurt them on Saturdays, and perhaps even worse with live fights on FX on Fridays for half the year.
Moving to a day that would allow them to be the focus, instead of being the "other" MMA show that's not the UFC, would be immensely beneficial in helping them move beyond this erratic viewership. It would also help them grow above the high marks they've set on MTV2.
As they get ready to move to Spike TV, establishing themselves on a night that isn't dominated by the UFC is a must, and they really can grab a foothold on the middle of the week if they jump at the opportunity. If this Friday night move is something that sticks through 2013, it will very likely be a big mistake.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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