Ray Rice Mess Doesn't Deter Viewers From 'Thursday Night Football' on CBS

Game Averages More Than 20 Million Viewers

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It looks like the Ray Rice mess didn't hurt the ratings for CBS's debut of "Thursday Night Football."

The debut broadcast of the franchise on CBS and NFL Network averaged 20.8 million viewers, CBS said Friday afternoon. As expected, that trounced the audience that NFL Network was able to pull in alone a year earlier, when the equivalent game averaged 11 million viewers.

The 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. hours on CBS averaged 19.4 million viewers, according to the network, more than triple the average on CBS on the equivalent Thursday in 2013. Programming a year earlier was admittedly mixed, however: a rerun of "The Big Bang Theory," a preview of CBS's upcoming new fall shows, "Big Brother" and a rerun of "Elementary."

It's still a big start for CBS, which will simulcast eight games along with the NFL Network this fall.

The eye network has a lot riding on its new "Thursday Night Football," having invested heavily in promoting the games and setting lofty guarantees for advertisers. CBS is seeking more than $500,000 for a 30-second spot in "Thursday Night Football" games and has guaranteed a 12.3 household rating. (One ratings point is equivalent to 1% of TV households.) That household rating will be the combined viewership of simulcasts on both CBS and NFL Network.

Last night's game, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, averaged a national household rating of 12.7, CBS said.

The game had been framed by controversy amid questions over how the NFL handled the Ray Rice scandal. CBS decided shortly before air to pull its planned opening package, including a video of actor Don Cheadle doing a narration over "Run This Town," a Jay Z song featuring Rihanna, as a result. The opener will appear before future "Thursday Night Football" games, a network spokeswoman said.

CBS geared Thursday's pre-game to more analysis and conversation around the elevator video, published this week by TMZ, appearing to show Mr. Rice knocking-out his then-fiancee and now wife. The opener also included an interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

But none of that stopped people from watching. The debut of "Thursday Night Football" gave CBS its best Thursday ratings since 2007, the network said

Now the question is how "Thursday Night Football" will impact other broadcasters as they begin rolling out their new slate of fall programming in the coming weeks.

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