LAS VEGAS – Though UFC president Dana White said he loves the live version of "The Ultimate Fighter," the reality series will return to a taped format for its next season, he told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday.
In the recently completed season, the first portion of the show were scenes from the house where the fighters are sequestered and was shown on tape. But for the first time ever, the fights were live instead of taped. That led to some time overruns and an inability to develop story lines introducing the audience to the fighters.
The show will remain on Friday at 10 p.m. ET on FX, though White said if "this next season isn't up to the standards I expect, they promised me we can move it to Tuesday or Wednesday." He said casting for Season 16 would begin in three weeks and will debut in September. Season 2 on FX will feature welterweight fighters.
The UFC typically names two of its high-profile fighters as coaches, though he said he still had not determined who they will be.
The first 14 seasons of "The Ultimate Fighter" were on Wednesday nights on Spike, the Viacom-owned network that now has a controlling ownership interest in the competing Bellator Fighting Championship.
When Fox struck a deal last August with the UFC for MMA programming, it wanted to put "The Ultimate Fighter" on FX. The only open slot, though, was on Friday night, which is generally regarded as the worst ratings night.
"FX wants to try it again on Friday nights," White said. "But if it's not up to the standards I'm expecting, I'm pretty sure they'll give me what I want. But this season was a smash hit home run for them."
According to FX spokesman Dominic Pagone, TUF was the second-most watched series on basic cable on Friday nights among men 18-34 and 18-49, which is the UFC's key demographic, trailing only ESPN, which generally broadcast an NBA game in that slot. Adding women, TUF was the third-most watched network on basic cable among adults 18-34 and 18-49.
Pagone said among adults aged 18-49, FX's ratings with "The Ultimate Fighter" improved 69 percent year over year. It went up 141 percent among men 18-49 year-over-year, Pagone added.
White said that although he prefers the live format, he was unable to delve into the fighters' lives as much as in seasons past.
He said that the perception that TUF was drawing poorly on FX was because Spike executives were leaking ratings to MMA web sites and presenting them in a misleading way. The overall viewership from the last season on Spike compared to the first season on FX was less, but it was largely because of the switch in days, White noted.
He said Spike also tried to create confusion in the marketplace by running reruns of TUF programming against the live show on FX. Spike has the right via its contract with the UFC to run its UFC-related shows through the end of this season.
Chuck Saftler, the executive vice president of FX, said there is always risk involved in television when things such as time slot, day and network are changed. He said TUF's ratings were on par with WWE "Smackdown" on Syfy, "which has been an institution on Friday nights." Saftler said that "was a good thing."
He also said the timing of the deal, which began in January for the network and in March with "The Ultimate Fighter," created promotional challenges.
All of the Fox networks are renowned for superb cross-promotion of shows, but TUF wasn't able to benefit from that in March.
"At that point, a lot of the big promotional platforms that are within the company are on hiatus," Saftler said. "The NFL wasn't there. [Major League Baseball] wasn't there. "Sons of Anarchy," "American Horror Story," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which are all big promotional horses within the Fox and FX world, were all being rested."
"Considering that we launched when we launched without those promotional platforms, I'm really happy with where we are ... for it to improve FX's time period on Friday nights the way it did, that also says good things."