CBS' expensive foray into Thursday prime-time NFL games is off to a strong start in the ratings.
The premiere of "Thursday Night Football" on CBS and the NFL Network scored an average of 20.8 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. That's an increase of nearly 90% from last year's comparable Thursday night game that aired only on the NFL Network.
Last week's Thursday kickoff on rival network NBC -- a highly anticipated battle between the 2013 Super Bowl champions the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers -- delivered nearly 27 million.
Another big recent prime-time game, NBC's Sunday matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, scored 23.5 million viewers.
About 3.4 million of the Ravens-Steelers game's 20.8 million total viewers watched via NFL Network's simulcast. That telecast earned a 1.6 rating among 18-to-49-year-old viewers. Taking out the NFL Network's numbers, CBS scored 17.4 million viewers and a rating of 5.9 in 18-49.
CBS has been adding more football to its TV schedule to solidify its position as the most popular television network.
The additional viewership isn't coming cheap. For the one-year deal, the company agreed to pay about $275 million for rights to seven Thursday games in the fall and one game on a Saturday night in December.
The network was already paying $800 million a year for its package of Sunday games.
From 8-11 p.m., the football game averaged 19.4 million viewers, CBS' biggest Thursday prime-time audience since Nov. 8, 2007, when the network had "Survivor" and a "CSI" and "Without a Trace" crossover episode (19.5 million viewers on average).