TV Ratings: 'Downton Abbey' Hooks Finale Best 8.5 Million Viewers

UPDATED: The "Masterpiece" drama outperforms all but the conclusion of the Winter Olympics, "The Walking Dead" and the Daytona 500 on Sunday night.
"Downton Abbey"

Masterpiece Classic closed the doors on another season of Downton Abbey on Sunday night -- and keeping with the PBS drama's trend of ratings growth, it was again improved from the previous year's finale.

The last episode of Downton Abbey's fourth season, which debuted in the U.K. two months ago, averaged 8.5 million viewers in its inaugural telecast. That's up 300,000 from last February's then-record 8.2 million viewers who tuned in to see star Dan Stevens killed off. It was TV's third-most-watched show of the night behind the Winter Olympics, The Walking Dead and the Daytona 500.

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Already in production on its fifth season, Downton Abbey continues to improve stateside. Latest averages have the fourth run averaging 8.3 million weekly viewers -- a number that will go up when all time-shifting is tallied. The growth, mirrored nearly everywhere in the globe, has not always the case in its native U.K. December's Christmas special was down by 1.5 million viewers from 2012. The show returned to a U.S. best 10.2 million viewers in January.

"The great thing about PBS is that there is that space to work, to succeed or not succeed," executive producer Gareth Neame told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday. "The fact that it's grown every year by such a significant audience means that people are still finding ways to catch up with the show four seasons in."

Downton Abbey, unlike many contemporaries, has prompted viewers to catch up on other platforms. PBS' streaming has benefited a great deal from the show. Across online online vehicles, the public broadcaster estimates more than 7.1 million streams of all content and 4.4 million streams of full-length Downton Abbey episodes. It's been nearly a year since the past seasons also jumped from Netflix to the lesser-watched Amazon Prime for exclusive off-net streaming. 

“Our Downton audience has stayed true to the end, watching the fourth season in record numbers,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said on Monday's news. "We are grateful to Carnival Films and Masterpiece for another must-see year of dramatic twists and turns -- and are eagerly awaiting Season 5.”

Downton Abbey's growth has not been without facing substantial competition. Going against juggernaut The Walking Dead in the last three weeks, Downton Abbey has also had to contend with airing against the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Super Bowl and the Olympics this season.

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"We were number two for all of those events," Neame says of both award shows and the Super Bowl. "We've been able to become the go-to drama after these events on Sunday nights." 

Other than The Walking Dead, it has been the biggest Sunday scripted performer the last two months.

A co-production of Carnival Films and Masterpiece, Downton Abbey has a unique streaming setup -- with free views allowed on PBS station websites, the PBS Video Portal and PBS’ apps on Xbox, Roku and Apple TV for a limited time after each broadcast.