A shopper exits the NBC Experience retail store (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News.)

CBS May Need New Slogan as NBC Grabs First Lead Since `Friends'

(Bloomberg) -- CBS has long taken pride in being the most-watched TV network. It may need a new slogan.

With the Super Bowl and the Olympics this year, NBC has built a sizable lead over CBS in total prime-time viewers. If that holds through the end of the TV season in May, it would mark the first time that NBC finished No. 1 in total viewers since 2002, when “Friends” and “E.R.” led the ratings.

NBC’s lead is due in large part to the fact that it aired both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics last month -- programs that will deliver sizable gains in advertising for the peacock network. But NBC has newer hit shows, too, like the drama “This Is Us,” where ratings have increased in the second season. And NBC already led in the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers care most about.

The network, owned by Comcast Corp., is averaging more than 10 million viewers a night, according to Nielsen data. That’s an increase of almost 16 percent from a year earlier and compares with about 9 million for CBS. ABC and Fox are far behind, with about 5.9 million and 5.5 million, respectively. NBC took the lead in mid-February for the first time in 16 years, marking an impressive turnaround from five years ago, when the network ranked fourth.

The victory in total viewers may be short-lived even if it holds through May. It’s been 12 years since one network had the both Olympics and Super Bowl in season. And excluding sports, CBS still led NBC by about 2 million viewers a night as of Feb. 12, according to Nielsen data. Next year, CBS will air the Super Bowl -- the most watched program in all of television.

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