For the first time in eight years, NBC might avoid finishing the broadcast season in last place.

The 2011-12 season concluded Wednesday and network ratings analysts say NBC officially ranks third among the Big Four networks among the key adults 18-49 demographic. ABC has the notoriety of slipping to fourth, with NBC having edged out its rival by a mere tenth of a rating point.

Broadcasters released their traditional season-end ratings tallies today (below), but additional DVR data will continue to trickle in during the next couple weeks. There is a chance ABC’s average could round up to tie NBC, though network analysts say this is unlikely.

Most of NBC’s new shows struggled this season, and many of its returning shows fell to record-low ratings. Yet Peacock benefited from airing the season’s highest-rated special event (Super Bowl XLVI), the highest-rated regular program (Sunday Night Football) and continued to have success with musical competition series The Voice. The Super Bowl alone is worth at least a tenth of a rating point on a network’s season average.

Experts say NBC’s boosted numbers may continue into the first part of next season, since the network will air The Voice in the fall for the first time. The performance show is expected to improve the network’s year-over-year fourth-quarter performance. Since NBC won’t have the Super Bowl next year, however, the question is whether the network can sustain this season’s overall gain without the support of the big game.

For ABC, the news must be frustrating. ABC has to compete with rivals largely on the strength of its entertainment programming and specials (such as its highly rated Oscars coverage).

Though ABC had the top-rated new drama this season with Once Upon a Time, the ratings decline of aging hits like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy has weakened the network’s overall performance. ABC points out that if it wasn’t for the Super Bowl, the network would have firmly beaten NBC (unfortunately for ABC, however, sports do exist).

As usual, Fox has won the season in the adult demo, while CBS claimed victory too thanks to having the largest overall viewing audience. This marks Fox’s eighth straight year at the top, an industry record. CBS has ranked first in viewers for nine of the past 10 years. Yet Fox notably declined 9 percent this season, mainly due to not having the Super Bowl, plus American Idol slipped in the ratings.

Fifth network The CW took an even bigger hit than Fox, down 22 percent, though viewers seem excited about the network’s new crop of shows for fall.

Here’s the 2011-12 chart compared to last season:

Adults 18-49







Total Viewers


CBS…11.7 million…+1%

Fox…8.9 million…-9%

ABC…8.4 million…-1%

NBC…7.4 million…+5%

CW…1.7 million…-15%