'Downton' Finishes Strong, Will New Season Air Earlier Than Usual?

“Downton Abbey” did Sunday what networks hope every show will: deliver more viewers in its finale than premiere. The soap opera about life in a stately British home drew an average of 8.2 million viewers for its season ender, up from the 7.9 million for the January Season Three premiere.

In household ratings, using Nielsen fast national data, the finale posted a 5.2 -- up from a 5.1 for the premiere, according to PBS and member station WGBH.

The two entities also said the Season Three finale soared above the previous season’s average viewership of 5.4 million and 3.5 household rating. The show -- which is making a bid to be considered among PBS’s most well-known ever -- posted viewership that more quadrupled PBS’s average prime-time results.

“Downton” reached another milestone this season, drawing the second-highest household rating on TV the night of the Super Bowl by one metric.

Viking River Cruises and Ralph Lauren have been airing spots prior to “Downton” episodes.

What will be interesting between now and the fall is whether PBS and WGBH opt (or receive the rights to) air the “Downton” fourth season at the same time it airs in the U.K. The show has aired in Britain in the fall with a Christmas special before it begins airing in the U.S. in January.

With its popularity, however, spoilers are making their way stateside before the episodes air, while PBS runs the risk of fans scouring the Internet to watch episodes before they make it to the U.S. Show star Hugh Bonneville has been one of the many involved to express an interest in more simultaneous distribution.

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