There have been some visible growing pains for Bellator on the new Paramount Network.
Though Paramount and Spike, which Bellator called home since 2013, are technically the same channel, ratings have dropped since parent company Viacom rebranded the station in January. Bellator 197 represented a new low-water mark for the Scott Coker era, averaging just 242,000 viewers on Paramount. The four cards before that averaged fewer than 500,000 viewers. Just about every figure is down in the Spike-to-Paramount transition.
While the number of the channel has not changed, Paramount has a whole new personality compared to Spike, which for a long time was billed as a men’s network. Paramount has designs on hour-long dramas and movies, not unlike an FX or an AMC. Spike was heavy on reality television and for a long time was the home of MMA on cable, beginning with the UFC.
“They just switched, so they’re working on all this new, scripted programming and it’s gonna take time,” Coker told MMA Fighting in a recent interview. “But [MMA] is a business that’s gonna go up and down, up and down, up and down, based on who’s fighting. And actually how good of a job we do promoting. To me, there’s gonna be ups and downs in this business. I think we’re gonna have some big peaks and there’s gonna be some medium bites. That’s just the nature of this business.”
Bellator got some good news last week when the ratings came back for Bellator 198, which was headlined by a heavyweight grand prix tournament bout between heavyweight legends Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir. After the DVR numbers and West Coast replay numbers came in, the card averaged 838,000 viewers between Paramount and CMT (which also had a live telecast) with Emelianenko vs. Mir averaging an impressive 1.5 million viewers.
With NBA and NHL playoffs that same night, Coker said he was very happy how things ended up.
“I think that we broke through the clutter of all that,” Coker said. “I think Fedor and Mir collectively did a great job promoting and I think our guys did a great job making sure that we did everything that we could to get eyeballs on this fight.
“If it wasn’t for the NBA playoffs and hockey playoffs, it think it would have been a much bigger number. But I’ll take 1.5 million.”
Coker added that, on digital, more than 10 million people watched the Bellator 198 countdown shows.
Bellator will be right back at it with another big card Saturday night from San Jose, Calif. In the headliner, light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader meets Muhammed Lawal in the final first-round matchup of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix. UFC veterans Paul Daley and Jon Fitch face off in the co-main event.
The winner of Bader vs. Lawal will face Matt Mitrione in the semifinals of the tournament. On the other side of the bracket, Emelianenko will take on Chael Sonnen in what will be one of the biggest fights in Bellator history.
“I think the Chael fight with Fedor will do a big number,” Coker said. “I think as far as the future with Paramount, the sky is the limit. We can grow this thing as big as we want.”
When all is said and done, the hope, Coker said, is to position Paramount as a network with premium content, not unlike HBO and Showtime. But without having to pay extra for it in your cable package.
“HBO has their boxing, Showtime has their boxing and Paramount has their MMA,” Coker said. “We just have to continue pounding it out there and doing a good job to promote it, because I feel like at the end of the day the network is gonna have some amazing shows and we’re gonna be a part of that.”