Sunday’s premiere of Downton Abbey, Season 5 on PBS averaged 10.1 million viewers. That’s down a tick from the Season 4 premiere of 10.2 million viewers, which makes Sunday’s starter the franchise’s second highest rated episode to date. And, PBS notes, Downton Abbey remains the highest-rated drama in PBS history, with the season kickoff the second most watched thing on all of US television in its Sunday timeslot.

But it’s the first time Downton has gone any way but up in a season launch. And, Sunday’s opener followed closely ITV’s Christmas Day episode of Downton across the Atlantic, which clocked 5.84 million viewers — it’s lowest ever Christmas Day overnight audience and a drop of more than 1 million viewers from its Xmas ’13 showing.

PBS noted viewership for Sunday’s Season 5 debut remained solid throughout the episode’s one-hour, 15-minute duration, and that many of these viewers stayed to watch the one-hour docu The Manners of Downton Abbey, hosted by Downton’s historical advisor Alastair Bruce, which logged numbers 250% above the network’s season-to-date average in that Sunday slot.

 

Sunday’s opener followed closely ITV’s Christmas Day episode of Downton across the Atlantic, which clocked 5.84 million viewers — it’s lowest ever Christmas Day overnight audience and a drop of more than 1 million viewers from its Xmas ’13 showing.

Last July, PBS chief Paula Kerger noted Downton Abbey’s fourth season was up 16% year over year — among the reasons PBS did not consider an airdate for this fifth season that more closely coincides with the British play-pattern.

And, one year ago this month, Kerger had announced PBS would never, ever air Downton Abbey seasons closer to its UK run, citing its Season 4 debut audience –  10.2 million viewers, which was a 22% jump compared to the Season 3 opener (7.9 million), which itself had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil.  ”It’s become a bit of tradition after the holidays to come together to watch Downton,” Kerger said back then. “The audience build over the years…argues to keep the January time frame,” she said.  And, of course, a fall launch coinciding with the UK’s Downton season would put it in the teeth of the commercial broadcast network’s fall-season rollout, which, she noted, TV critics in the room had criticized PBS for doing in the past. Not to mention that the series’ UK broadcaster determines its debut date not terribly long before it actually happens — no weeks and weeks of promotions, as is the norm in the U.S.