LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Broadcast network NBC rose out of the ratings basement for the first time in eight years to claim third place among 18- to 49-year-olds - the age group prized by advertisers, according to ratings data released on Thursday.
ABC slipped to fourth in the category but maintained its third-place standing among total viewers for the 2011-12 season, according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media.
Comcast-owned NBC was lifted by the Super Bowl and "Sunday Night Football," the season's most-viewed primetime program, plus the popular singing competition "The Voice."
"We've taken some key first steps toward rebuilding primetime," NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said in a statement.
Among 18- to 49-year-olds, NBC averaged 2.8 million viewers per week, ahead of the 2.6 million for ABC, according to Horizon Media.
ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co, said it topped NBC in that age group by 4 percent, if NBC's Super Bowl broadcast was excluded.
ABC also said it could move into a tie for third once final data from digital video recorder viewing is compiled.
NBC's rise could be short-lived as it relied largely on "The Voice" and football, said Brad Adgate, media analyst for Horizon Media.
"Day-to-day, ABC has a stronger programming lineup, and they are even returning six first-year shows, more than any other network," he said. "It would not surprise if ABC beats out NBC next season."
ABC's top programs included "Modern Family," the No. 1-rated comedy and "Grey's Anatomy," the No. 1 drama.
CBS, owned by CBS Corp, held its grip on the No. 1 spot overall with a crop of hits including "NCIS" and "The Big Bang Theory." News Corp's Fox network finished second, boosted by "American Idol," "New Girl," and "The X Factor."
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover; editing by Gunna Dickson)