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TNF: CBS, NFL Network Score with 20.8M Viewers

CBS and NFL Network kicked off the pro football league’s new Thursday Night Football play with a bang, scoring nearly 21 million viewers for Baltimore’s rout of Pittsburgh.

The Sept. 11 contest was simulcast on CBS and NFL Network, drawing 20.8 million viewers on a Nielsen live + same-day basis.The Ravens-Steelers TNF tally reflected 3.4 million viewers on NFL Network.

The combined, simulcast delivery marked an 89% jump from the 11 million who watched the 2013 TNF opener between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets on NFL Network and local affiliates in the participating clubs home DMAs, which accounted for some 2.2 million of that total. The combined delivery was also 87% higher than the previous best NFL Network audience -- the Sept. 19, 2013 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles tackled 11.1 million watchers on average.

CBS’s presentation marked the first time an NFL game aired on broadcast network on a Thursday night, outside of NBC’s Thanksgiving telecasts, as the league attempts to broaden its footprint on a big night for television and advertisers.

Last night’s simulcast averaged a 12.7 national household rating, 84% above last year’s 6.9 on NFL Network and over-the-air-stations within the New York and Boston markets. The 12.7 stands 81% above the previous all-time best 7.0 rating for the aforementioned Chiefs-Eagles telecast on NFL Network and over-the-air-stations within the two team markets

“The debut of Thursday Night Football on network television exceeded our ratings expectations," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. "From a ratings, sales and production standpoint we could not be more pleased with the success of last night's broadcast and our partnership with NFL Network on Thursday Night Football."

“Since Thursday Night Football first began on NFL Network in 2006, we've been strategically building this franchise" said Brian Rolapp, executive vice president of Media for the NFL. "As these numbers indicate, the partnership between CBS and NFL Network is helping to expose Thursday Night Football to a wider audience and further cement Thursdays as the night to kickoff the NFL week."

Although the game was one-sided  – Pittsburgh was outscored 16-3 in the second half to make the final count 26-6  – it likely benefited from the media swirl about former Raven Ray Rice, who was cut by the team and suspended by the league indefinitely following the release of a tape showing him knocking out his then fiancée, now wife, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February. Inquiries surrounding the event and when league officials saw the tape, which was released by TMZ on Sept. 8, have led to a NFL investigation and put commissioner Roger Goodell’s leadership in question.

For a reported $275 million in rights fees, CBS will air games during the first half of the season that will be simulcast on NFL Network. The back-end of the schedule will feature games produced by CBS that will air on NFL and broadcast stations in the participating teams’ home markets. -

Last season, NFL Network scored record numbers: a 5.0 rating, including contributions from the over-the-air stations of the participating teams, and 8 million viewers.

This year, the CBS/NFL Network combo is reportedly guaranteeing a 12.3 rating.

The broadcast season will swing into full gear by the third week of the TNF schedule: a big-market, NFC East affair pitting the New York Giants versus the Washington Redskins on Sept. 25. The Sept. 18 game matches the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.