The real referees returned to action and more than 8 million watched Gene Steratore and his crew, as well as the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns on NFL Network Thursday night.
The pro football-league's in house service averaged 8.1 million viewers for its coverage of the Ravens' 23-16 triumph over the Browns in a rain storm at M&T Stadium, according to Nielsen data. Perhaps benefiting from its recently expanded footprint that has seen Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cablevision join its affiliate roster and push its sub count past the 70 million mark, the Sept. 27 telecast stands as the fifth-most-watched game during NFL Network's seven seasons of primetime coverage.
Baltimore-Cleveland ranked as cable's top show on Thursday.
Through the first three games of its expanded 13-game schedule, TNF has averaged a 5.0 U.S. household rating, up 39% from its 2011 average, and 7.9 million viewers, a 28% jump over last season, putting 2012 on pace to become the network's highest-rated and most-watched season to date.
Coverage and features around the Browns-Ravens game across NFL Digital Media platforms -- NFL.com/LIVE, NFL Mobile from Verizon, and the NFL 12 tablet app -- scored with 520,000 unique viewers, a 17% gain from the 2011 average and a 15% increase to 1 million video streams from last season.
Next up on TNF: the Arizona Cardinals visit the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. (ET).
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