NBC has shown clear improvement this past year, but with a steep price tag. The network is up 13 percent season-to-date in the prime-time ratings, and was the only network that could claim any seasonal ratings growth at all (until the Super Bowl boosted CBS this month). Even excluding its pivotal fourth quarter, whose numbers are still being calculated, Kagan estimates NBC is up 10 percent in advertising revenue in 2006.
Still, the network paid a high cost for its recent fall boost. The popular “Sunday Night Football” was an expensive addition, and lavish dramas such as “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Heroes,” and “Friday Night Lights” added to the network’s budget without always luring large audiences.
NBC’s growth figures are aided by setting such a low bar in recent years and the channel is still expected to finish in fourth place this season.