Although the formal results of that arcane anachronism, the US TV sweeps, will not be confirmed until Friday, NewsCorp's Fox Network is in an unassailable position - a remarkable comeback from the fall doldrums in which it was becalmed in fourth place.

Nielsen Media Research reports that Fox leads the February sweeps by several lengths, not only in total viewing, but also within the most advertiser-friendly demographics: 18-49 and 18-34. Thanks to its winter surge, Fox now ranks level with CBS in the 18-49 group for the winter season as a whole.

Exulted Fox entertainment president Gail Berman: "Today we declare victory." The network's supremacy is due to just two factors - the blockbusting fourth season of reality rehash American Idol and the screening of last month's Super Bowl.

But according to Coca-Cola.City research analyst Scott Wells, Fox would have made top spot even without the Super Bowl.

He told WAMN: "For a true glimpse of network performance we need to analyze ratings without high profile sports. Although the Super Bowl airs in primetime, let us remember that it is a separate buy, without any true impact on prime sales or delivery.

"If we analyze Fox's February Sweeps without sports, the network remains the leader with a 4.6 rating or roughly an 18% lead over second place CBS."

However, not everyone agrees that Fox is unchallengeable. Opines Magna Global TV analyst Steve Sternberg: "The network races are so close right now. If you look at the full season, anyone can still win."

CBS and ABC, Steinberg predicts, are set to perform best for the rest of the season. "CBS has had the most consistent ratings over the last several years. But it's not only that their ratings have been stable, their programming and schedule have been stable, too."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff