Tiger King is a Stranger Things–level hit. Netflix’s WTF-filled docuseries drew an average minute audience of roughly 19 million U.S. television viewers during its first ten days, according to new data from Nielsen, eclipsing tune-in over a similar time frame for Stranger Things 2 (17.5 million) and not far behind the audience for Stranger Things 3 (20.5 million). What’s even more impressive is that Tiger King amassed those numbers not by exploding out of the cage, but through exponential daily growth, likely fueled by social-media buzz and word of mouth.
Per Nielsen, the bizarro doc debuted with so-so viewership on Friday, March 20, notching an average minute audience of 280,000 viewers, well below tune-in for the opening days of Netflix scripted series such as Mindhunter season two (395,000) or Altered Carbon season one (335,000). But its audience more than doubled the next day to 768,000, and then nearly doubled again on Sunday, March 22, to 1.3 million. Tiger King then held steady for a few days, before experiencing another big leap on Wednesday, March 25, to 1.8 million and surpassing the 2 million mark the following day. On Saturday, March 28, the series doubled its viewership yet again, earning an audience of 4.1 million viewers, then dipped slightly a day later to 3.4 million. All told, Tiger King went from an average minute audience of roughly 2.4 million viewers for its opening three-day weekend to 7.8 million viewers during its second weekend. (Nielsen hasn’t yet released data from last weekend.)
Some caveats for Nielsen’s Netflix numbers, starting with what they do and don’t measure. The longtime linear-ratings giant’s streaming reports only look at viewership done via TV sets, so anyone who watched an episode of Tiger King on their phone or tablet or browser doesn’t get counted. And while Netflix is an international service available in over 100 countries, Nielsen just looks at U.S. audiences. This is why Netflix has generally dismissed outside attempts to quantify its viewership, even as it (and all other streaming services) have refused to reveal the very precise data it tallies every minute about who’s watching what. Netflix has instead released selected stats about how many people have sampled its offerings, most recently defining anyone who selects a title and stays with it for at least two minutes as a viewer. The streamer has also started publishing daily top-ten lists of its most-watched series and movies, as well as an overall title ranker.
Those Netflix lists are also based on the two-minute measurement, which has led some observers to scoff at their utility. It’s true that Netflix saying X million people have chosen to watch a title is not comparable to Nielsen reports for linear broadcasts on traditional TV networks — say, 10 million viewers for an episode of This Is Us. That’s because Nielsen’s most commonly reported ratings cover the average audience for an episode of a show. However, Nielsen also puts out ratings based on what’s called the “reach” of a show — a.k.a. how many people saw at least part of a show or event. You’ll sometimes see networks put out this number to demonstrate how many people sampled a program, even if they didn’t watch for long.
Nielsen said this year’s Super Bowl, for instance, was seen by 102.1 million viewers, but it also reported that 148.5 million people watched at least some of the game. This metric is very similar to the one Netflix touts for its shows, since they both combine people who’ve sampled a program and people who watched most of that program. Nielsen put out the equivalent of a reach number for Tiger King too: The company said 34.3 million people sampled Tiger King during its first ten days, once again putting it between the second and third installments of Stranger Things.
Netflix hasn’t offered any public comment yet about how Tiger King is performing, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see it release some data on or before April 21, when the company is scheduled to release its first-quarter earnings. However, the streamer is already showing a similar surge in popularity for the doc series: It’s currently listed as the No. 1 Netflix title overall, and has been for the past 17 days.