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CBS punches Saturday ratings

Mixed-martial arts strikes blow for network

Mixed-martial arts has helped CBS bring some young viewers to broadcast television on a sleepy Saturday night.

The increasingly popular sport made its network debut Saturday night with the first of four planned “Elite XC Saturday Night Fights.” Ratings for the live event from Newark, N.J., grew with each half-hour and peaked in the hour following primetime, with CBS the demo leader from 9 to 11 p.m.

According to preliminary Nielsen estimates that will be finalized Tuesday, CBS led the two-hour block from 9 to 11 p.m. in adults 18-49 (1.9 rating/6 share) — a 36% improvement over what the network averaged with its crime programming on the night during the recently concluded 2007-08 season.

But it was in younger and male demos that the fights hit a bull’s-eye: Among adults 18-34, the event’s 1.9 rating more than doubled the Eye’s season average (0.9), while in men 18-34, it more than tripled the net’s average (2.6 vs. 0.7).

In total viewers, the Elite XC event averaged 4.3 million from 9 to 11 p.m., leaving CBS neck and neck with both ABC’s repeat movie “The Rookie” and NBC’s coverage of hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals. Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted,” airing from 9 to 10 p.m., was the most-watched program of the night, with 5.4 million viewers.

The final program averages for “Saturday Night Fights” are expected to rise in the nationals, as the final 45 minutes of action — in which hyped heavyweight king Kimbo Slice defeated James Thompson in the main event — were easily the highest-rated, according to metered-market overnights.

The top local markets in the meters were Oklahoma City (11.1/18), Nashville (10.3/19) and New Orleans (9.7/15).

Elite XC events have previously aired on Showtime, while NBC recently announced plans to air programming from another organization, Strikeforce, in latenight on Saturdays. The UFC, home to most of the sport’s marquee names and a big player in pay-per-view, has a cable deal with Spike.

The next “Saturday Night Fights” event on CBS is scheduled for July 26.

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