Downton Abbey‘s third-season opener and closer on Masterpiece Classic strongly outpaced ratings for comparable Season 2 shows — the February 17 finale even beat all of its broadcast and cable competition in primetime. So, it’s no surprise that national household ratings for the entire season were record-breakers. In news that might make even Carson crack a smile, PBS and WGBH said today that a total of 24M viewers tuned in to visit with the Crawley family over seven weeks of Season 3 episodes. That’s a 7M-viewer increase from last year and makes the show PBS’ highest-rated drama ever. The season had a 7.7 average and an average season audience of 11.5M viewers, according to Nielsen Live+7 data. Those figures are up 64% and 65%, respectively, over Season 2. On the UK’s ITV, Season 3 was also the biggest so far and had an overall average of 9.7M viewers.
The figures are notable given the high-stakes spoilers that were parading around the Internet while the show was airing in the UK ahead of its U.S. broadcast. They also set up quite a challenge for Season 4, which is currently shooting with a series of new castmembers — and sans some important ones who ducked out last year.
Via PBS’ online and mobile services, full episodes of Season 3 have been viewed 9.7M million times, an increase of 2.1M views over Season 2. The Masterpiece website also had more visitors on the day after the Season 3 finale than any day in its history. And, the season has also been the No. 1 show on both iTunes and Amazon Instant Video since the January 7 launch.