Last among equals
By Grainger David

(FORTUNE Magazine) – NBC, once the preening Peacock of prime time, has already fallen from first to worst in the ratings race. Now it's paying for that: Last week the network began cutting its "upfront" ad prices, which networks and advertisers negotiate for the new slate of upcoming shows, by as much as 2%. NBC was halfway through selling the ads at presstime, so that number could change, but it's clear that the network will lose significant ground to its main rivals--ABC, CBS, Fox--which all saw price increases between 4% and 6%.

"They've been dethroned," says Matt Collins, an analyst at Edward Jones. "You can't expect them to stay on top forever."

The next big headache for Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group: the Today show, which is losing ground to Good Morning America. Today--which NBC parent GE claims is the most profitable show on television--has beaten GMA every single week for the past 495 weeks, but the gap is narrowing rapidly. In 2001 the difference was about two million viewers per week, according to Nielsen Media Research; by the week of May 9 it was ahead by a mere 45,000 viewers, the closest margin in almost ten years. If GMA passes Today in upcoming months, consider the Peacock officially plucked. -- Grainger David