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TV Ratings: CBS Wins February Sweep for First Time Since 1998; NBC Hits Historic Lows

As one of the most contested months of the TV calendar comes to a close, the Tiffany network rallies with help from the Super Bowl, while the Peacock's poor midseason drags it below Univision.

Super Bowl Smash American Idol - H 2013
Getty Images; NBC; FOX
From left: CBS' Super Bowl XLVII, NBC's "Smash" and Fox's "American Idol"

With just a few days left in the February sweep, a Super Bowl-boosted CBS is pacing for an easy win and NBC has fallen sharply from its fall comeback.

Nielsen returns through Feb. 24 have CBS winning the month in adults 18-49 for the first time since 1998. The 15 years since mostly have been dominated by an American Idol-driven Fox.

For the month, CBS averaged a 4.3 rating with adults 18-49 and 15.46 million viewers. Its advantage in total viewers, generally a given for the network, is still the largest for any network since 2008. And while the Super Bowl -- and, to a lesser extent, the Grammys -- obviously helped push CBS this far, four of the month's top broadcasts in the key demo, and the only nonlive events, were episodes of The Big Bang Theory. (Two episodes of Big Bang and two episodes of NCIS made the top 10 sweep broadcasts in total viewers.)

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Compared with February 2012, CBS is up 54 percent in adults 18-49 and 35 percent in total viewers.  

And while ABC and Fox both were down year over year, their dips are marginal compared with NBC. The Peacock's average was last among the Big Four networks in the all-important adults 18-49 demographic. And the Peacock was actually outperformed by Univision for the first time ever in the key demo, averaging a 1.2 adults rating compared to the Spanish-language net's 1.5 adults rating.

NBC, which was inflated by its airing of the 2012 Super Bowl, still is down a whopping 67 percent from its demo sweep score last February. It's also a far cry from its big victory in November, when it rallied to No. 1 with 2.8 adults rating. In total viewers, NBC is down 61 percent from last year for an average of 3.96 million viewers. That puts it narrowly ahead of Univision's 3.7 million.

Down just 1 percent in total viewers (7.32 million) and 4 percent with adults 18-49 (2.2 adults rating), ABC was up from last February's third-place showing and up from the fall that saw it sink to fourth. Fox, which has seen dips in American Idol and across the board, is off by 17 percent among adults 18-49 (2.0 rating) and 13 percent in total viewers (6.1 million).

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Midseason has not been particularly kind to any of the networks' new programming efforts -- with NBC's Do No Harm and CBS' The Job among the quickest casualties as others seem to be suffering slow deaths. And as returning series such as Smash and Community also flatlined, it's been live events that have really driven recent ratings.

The Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Grammys and Oscar red carpet coverage brought the broadcast networks the biggest returns in both adults 18-49 and total viewers -- and CBS and ABC were the only among them to reap the rewards.

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV