UFC Ready for Syndie Octagon

Dec 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Looking to rattle the weakening weekend first-run syndication business, Trifecta Entertainment has pinned down rights to distribute a weekly hour set for 2007 based on the Ultimate Fighting Championship battles.

Former “Fear Factor” host Joe Rogan, who emcees UFC fare on pay-per-view, has signed on to host the series.

The upcoming weekly syndication hour “UFC Wired” will be sold to broadcast stations for the 2007-08 season on a full barter basis. Every week, the series will feature UFC athletes competing in the company’s famed Octagon ring. Other series featuring the UFC celebrities have already brought loyal viewers flocking to Spike TV, where the series has been successful in capturing the elusive male 18 to 34 demographic. In fact, six of the top 10 series on Spike last season among men 18 to 49 were generated by UFC series, scoring ratings as high as 2.0 among men 18 to 49.

The move marks fledgling company Trifecta’s first program syndication deal since forming last year. The distributor was founded by former MGM Entertainment President Hank Cohen, who saw opportunities opening up for boutique distributors following the consolidation and mergers of a slew of distributors in the last decade. Since that time, the major studios have largely turned away from the tricky first-run weekend syndication business, largely filling schedules with off-net hours.

“When we formed Trifecta, we agreed it was a priority to identify a high-profile property before launching our syndication business and, without a doubt, `UFC Wired’ is that property,” said Hank Cohen, Trifecta partner and CEO. “In practically no time, this sport has grown into the most sought-after ticket among TV’s elusive young male viewers.”

The young male demographic at one time was the primary target of weekend syndicated series. Less than ten years ago, “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Hercules,” “Baywatch,” “VIP” and other original action-oriented series scored outstanding ratings for their stations and syndicators with high appeal to the young male crowd on the weekends, despite stiff competition from sports broadcasts. However, high production costs, a slowing international market and decreased ratings brought an end to the era.

Scant Competition

Currently, there are few first-run weekly series in syndication that are able to lure that demographic. Among non-scripted weeklies on the Nielsen Media Research charts, Paramount’s “Maximum Exposure,” which comprises compilations of dramatic video footage, leads all series in the male 18 to 34 demographic with a 0.9 rating average for this season, ahead of Buena Vista’s movie review series “Ebert & Roeper” at a 0.6 and NBC Universal’s news program “The Chris Matthews Show” at a 0.5.

Among scripted fare, which includes both off-network and first-run series, King World’s off-net run of “CSI: Miami” leads the race with a 1.4 rating in the demographic, besting Tribune’s “American Idol Rewind” at a 1.1.

“Stations are hungry for something that can compete with video gaming and Web surfing when it comes to men 18 to 34, and this is the first series in a long, long time that has proven it can do exactly that,” said Bill Trotter, who oversees broadcast sales for Trifecta. “`UFC Wired’ is compelling viewing for anyone seeking the adrenaline-fueled `high’ of the ultimate in one-on-one competition.”

Ultimate Fighting Championship, the league that began popularizing mixed martial arts competitions 13 years ago, currently makes its non-pay-per-view home on Viacom’s Spike TV. The company currently supplies cable network Spike with a bevy of series including “Inside the UFC,” “UFC Unleashed,” “UFC Fight Night,” and “UFC All Access.”

With the syndicated series in the works and the addition of demo favorite Mr. Rogan, executives of the company hope to broaden that trend. Owned and operated by Zuffa, the UFC organization produces about 24 live events annually that are distributed through cable and satellite providers.

“UFC Wired” will be formatted similarly to its Spike TV brethren, pitting the athletes against one another in all-out fights within the ring as well as interviews and background of its stars.

In addition to its U.S. distribution, UFC fight programs are distributed throughout the world including broadcast on WOWOW in Japan, Globosat in Brazil and Bravo in the United Kingdom.

“We are confident that our first entry into the syndication marketplace will give existing fans an `inside look’ at our world, as well as bring in a whole new audience that can experience the UFC for the first time,” said Dana White, president of the UFC.