Sunday Football Helps NBC Reclaim Top Spot

For years, NBC has struggled at the bottom of the pile of big broadcast networks, ratings-wise. However, this season it's on top, thanks in part to Sunday Night Football.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now a story about a big TV turnaround. For the fourth week in a row, NBC is the most-watched network in primetime among younger viewers. For a decade, NBC sat at the bottom beneath rivals ABC, CBS and FOX. NPR's Sami Yenigun explains reasons for this surprising turnaround.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Back when "ER" graced the airways and "Will and Grace" pumped lifeblood into primetime, NBC was the network champ, says Bill Gorman of the website TV By the Numbers.

BILL GORMAN: NBC was at the top in 2002. The only place they could go was down, and they went down.

YENIGUN: And they stayed down. They were, you could say...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIGGEST LOSER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The biggest loser will be...

YENIGUN: ...but now NBC is back on top.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VOICE")

BRANDY: I was not expecting that. That's crazy.

YENIGUN: Partly because of their singing competition "The Voice," and...

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YENIGUN: ...Sunday Night Football.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Are you kidding me?

YENIGUN: Seriously. Sunday Night Football is now the priciest place for primetime ads. The audience that NBC is pulling is the audience that advertisers drool over: people between 18 and 49 years old.

GORMAN: Once we get into the spring, they'll certainly fall behind CBS.

YENIGUN: When the Sunday night lights go out, Bill Gorman says, NBC won't be able to compete. Their season could plunge like the rest of the major broadcast networks.

GORMAN: ABC is down 11 percent. CBS is down 18 percent, and FOX is down 25 percent.

YENIGUN: With cable, YouTube, Hulu and pirate streams cutting into ratings every year, big broadcasters might just wish pigskin happened year-round. Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: It's NPR News.

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