"We consider this to be an extraordinary season for CBS," said Dave Poltrack, senior VP-research and planning at CBS. "We achieved the unprecedented, finishing No. 1 in prime time, daytime and late night."
Based on 29 weeks of data for the 30-week Nielsen season ended April 17, Mr. Poltrack estimated CBS averaged a 14 rating for the season, up 5% from last season.
Mr. Poltrack said ABC's and NBC's season averages could vary by one-10th of a rating point based on the season's final week. If they round upward, ABC will get a 12.5 rating and NBC will have an 11.1, both up 1%.
At worst, should both ABC and NBC end up flat for the season, it will be the first time since network prime-time erosion began in the 1980s that none of the Big 3 ended a season with a loss.
The basic cable TV average is also expected to be up slightly, rising 1% to a 13.8 rating. Pay cable is flat at a 3 rating, and independent TV stations are up 3.5% to a 6 rating. The only significant loser is Fox, down 5% to a 7.2 rating.
ABC executives, however, said CBS' record Olympics coverage needs to be factored out.
"If you remove the 16 Olympic days, we are basically at parity with CBS," said Larry Hyams, VP-audience analysis at ABC. "ABC has a 12.7 rating, up 2%; CBS has a 12.9 rating, down 3%; NBC has an 11.2 rating, up 2%; and Fox has a 7.2 rating, down 6%.
"From ABC's perspective, we are more or less finishing the 1993-94 TV season in household parity with CBS, and we are on the way up and CBS is on the way down."
CBS' Mr. Poltrack disputed that. He claimed by removing 16 days of programming from the second half of the season, ABC's analysis unfairly gives weight to the first half, when ABC traditionally fares better than CBS because of "NFL Monday Night Football."