Fox is again the leader among the big four broadcast networks in the key 18-49 audience -- making a rapid improvement from its disastrous start in the fall, when it was down double-digit percentages versus a year ago.
This data comes from Turner Research via Nielsen, looking at the broadest measure of TV viewing -- live program plus seven days of time-shifted viewing -- from September 20, 2010 through March 20, 2011.
Fox is averaging around 4.6 million adult 18-49 viewers, now down 6%; CBS is at 3.9 million, off 10%; ABC is at 3.202 also, losing 10%; and NBC is right behind ABC at 3.198, off 17%.
Fox benefited from the return of "American Idol" in the first quarter of 2011. It was, in fact, the only broadcast network to see gains among 18-49 viewers in the period versus the first quarter of a year ago -- up 3% to average 5.8 million in 18-49 viewers. A year ago, NBC aired the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February, which took viewers away from all other networks.
CBS was in second place in the first quarter of 2011, at 3.7 million, down 19% -- perhaps somewhat hurt from fewer gross rating points, given the lack of original episodes of its big-rated comedy "Two and a Half Men." ABC was behind CBS at 2.97 million, down 12% during the first quarter.
NBC lost much without the Olympics, down 35% to 2.7 million. But even taking the Olympics out of the equation, NBC was down 11%.
Overall, the picture isn't a winning one for the broadcast networks. Season-to-date, the big four networks are down 11% in 18-49 viewers (to 13.5 million) and off 16% in the first quarter 2011 (to 13.4 million).
Meanwhile, ad-supported cable is up 3% to a collective 18.5 rating among 18-49 viewers during the period. A year ago -- for the season -- ad-supported cable was down 1% at a 17.7 combined 18-49 viewer rating versus 2009 for the season.
The top-rated original cable series in the first quarter: MTV's "Jersey Shore," at 9.04 million viewers; followed by History's "Pawn Stars," at 7.62 million; History's "American Pickers," at 6.52 million; USA Network's "Royal Pains," with 5.47 million; BET's "The Game," at 5.31 million; and USA's "White Collar," with 4.88 million.