By Liana B. Baker
April 7 (Reuters) - Longtime ratings laggard NBC is expected to win this season's broadcast TV ratings race in the age group most prized by advertisers, 18 to 49, for the first time in a decade, NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke said on Monday.
"Our prediction is that we'll win this season by about 12 percent," Burke at a press event.
The last time NBC won that age group was in the 2003-04 season, a spokeswoman said.
NBC, owned by cable operator Comcast Corp, is averaging 3.7 million prime-time viewers through March 30 for the season that started in September, according to ratings data from Nielsen. Fox is second with 3.4 million. The winner will be determined when the TV season ends in May.
For the season that ended in May 2013, CBS won 18- to 49-year-olds while NBC landed in third place.
Burke said NBC would finish first this season even without the boost it enjoyed from the Winter Olympics in February.
NBC still has room to improve its ratings, particularly on Thursday nights, Burke said. He said he regrets that NBC did not win an eight-game Thursday night National Football League package that CBS nabbed in February.
"It'll help CBS for sure, which is why we've wanted it," he said, estimating it will generate $300 million in ad revenue for CBS.
Shows that have helped pushed NBC to first place include "The Blacklist," which stars James Spader as a master criminal who helps the FBI, and the second-year drama "Chicago Fire."
NBC is positioned for a strong "upfront" selling season, when broadcasters try to persuade advertisers to spend billions of dollars in commercials for their new shows, Burke said.
"We're going into it in better shape than we have in a decade, and that should be a positive thing for our company," he said.
NBC is also premiering six new scripted series over the summer and three new reality shows in a bid to compete better in the summer months, which have grown more competitive as broadcast networks no longer rely on reruns.
NBC's parent company, Comcast, will be under the spotlight this week, when it appears at the first hearing on Capitol Hill surrounding its $45.3 billion merger with Time Warner Cable on Wednesday. Burke, who did not speak directly about the merger at Monday's event in Manhattan, said he would not be attending the hearing but would tune in on TV. (Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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