The UFC is climbing its way into Fox’s octagon.
Trifecta Entertainment has sold its upcoming weekly series “UFC Wired” to the Fox Television Stations group, marking the first major broadcast markets to get in bed with the red-hot mixed martial arts brand.
The syndicated show, which Trifecta is offering on an all-barter advertising basis (meaning no cash license fee), features fighters of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in action. With the Fox deal, the show is scheduled to air this fall in nine of the 10 markets where Fox has station duopolies. The deal includes clearance in New York and Los Angeles, the two biggest cities in the country. Whether the show will air on the Fox-affiliated stations or the other station Fox owns in each market will be determined case-by-case.
Former “Fear Factor” host Joe Rogan hosts the series.
“The powerful Fox station group is the perfect partner for Trifecta in launching `UFC Wired.’ Their vast reach gives us a solid platform to better meet our goal of bringing exciting UFC action to a whole new audience to enjoy,” company partner and CEO Hank Cohen said.
For the newly formed distributor Trifecta, which showcased its product for the first time at NATPE last month, the deal marks the company’s first major market announcement for its batch of programs, which include “UFC Wired” as well as “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”
After announcing the company in October, Trifecta is fashioning itself as a full-service production-barter sales-distribution company that specializes in smaller-scale properties overlooked by the ever-consolidating syndication giants.
Mr. Cohen has noted that he was quick to see profitable holes that opened up when many other syndicators, especially among the majors, shied away from first-run programming in the weekend time slots.
“We are really trying to make a name for ourselves in an area where it’s tough to compete with the big guys,” Mr. Cohen told TelevisionWeek in an interview last week. “Since we are the new kid on the block and didn’t have existing off-net series to sell, we thought it was vital to bring as many high-profile main shows to the market as we could. That meant we should at least be able to have names that people recognize to be able to go in with sound programming options for the stations.”
For the UFC, the move into syndication means an opportunity to reach a broader audience after scoring high ratings, and entering the mainstream with a slew of series on Spike TV, including “The Ultimate Fighter,” “UFC Unleashed” and “Inside the UFC.” The elusive men 18 to 49 demographic in particular have flocked to the series, causing both broadcast networks and advertisers to sit up and take notice of the fighting league.
The interest in mixed martial arts competitions has been so heavy in recent years that MyNetwork TV, also owned and run by Fox, will air bouts from the International Fight League in prime time beginning March 12 in an effort to beef up its audiences, especially the male 18 to 49 demo.
That demographic was once considered a mainstay of weekend syndication, where series ranging from “Baywatch” to “Xena: Warrior Princess” once drew enormous audiences. However, production costs and a dying international market at the beginning of the decade put an end to that brand of action series.
Mr. Cohen and UFC President Dana White are betting that those audiences will quickly return with UFC’s foray into broadcast’s weekend programming.
“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.
“UFC Wired” is slated to debut this fall.
Other syndicators were busy bolstering their own series with stations last week. One distributor, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, pinned down the country’s three top markets for the upcoming syndication launch of comedies “Reno 911!” and “Chappelle’s Show.”
“Reno 911!” will enter off-cable syndication as a Monday-through-Friday show this fall, while “Chappelle’s Show” will debut as a weekly. In New York, considered the nation’s toughest market in which to sell a show, MGM cleared the pair of programs at Tribune-owned WPIX-TV. In Los Angeles, MGM sold “Reno 911!” to CBS-owned KCAL-TV and “Chappelle’s Show” to the Fox-owned KTTV/KCOP-TV duopoly. In Chicago, MGM sold both shows to Fox-owned WFLD-TV/WPWR-TV. Both programs have also cleared 15 additional markets.
MGM’s sales campaign started right before NATPE, said Jim Packer, president, Worldwide Television Distribution, MGM.
Meanwhile, reports last week that distributor Program Partners had inked a deal with the NBC station group for upcoming game show “Let’s Play Crosswords” proved to be untrue, although sources close to the syndicator said there had been “very early” discussions.