‘Tiger King’ Nabbed Over 34 Million U.S. Viewers in First 10 Days, Nielsen Says (EXCLUSIVE)

Tiger King” has clawed its way into the national psyche to become one of Netflix’s biggest-ever original shows.

The docuseries reached a U.S. TV audience of 34.3 unique viewers within the first 10 days of its release (March 20-29), according to Nielsen estimates. That topped season 2 of Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” which had 31.2 million unique viewers in its first 10 days, and was within shouting distance of “Stranger Things 3,” which drew 36.3 million over the comparable 10-day span, the measurement firm said.

On an average per-minute basis, “Tiger King” pulled in an audience of 19.0 million among U.S. viewers from March 20-29, Nielsen reported. That also was higher than “Stranger Things 2” (17.5 million) and nearly matched “Stranger Things 3” (20.5 million).

“Tiger King” has become an undeniable phenomenon, in a seven-episode limited series that weaves a bizarre tale of conflict and crime set in the world of big-cat breeders and private zoos. It roared to popularity as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the U.S., with viewers presumably eager to immerse themselves in escapist entertainment that has the added intrigue of being a true story.

When “Tiger King” premiered March 20, it got off to an inauspicious start: On the first day, it notched an average minute audience of 280,000 U.S viewers and reached 741,000 unique viewers, according to Nielsen. By comparison, on their respective launch days, Netflix’s “Mindhunter” season 2 had an average-minute audience of 395,000 and “Altered Carbon” season 1 had 335,000.

But buzz built quickly for the show, with “Tiger King’s” daily average minute audiences jumping to over 1 million by day three; 2 million by day seven; and 4 million by day nine. From March 20-29, it was the No. 1 most-tweeted TV show tracked by Nielsen over that time period, with 1.8 million total organic (nonpaid) interactions on Twitter about “Tiger King.”

According to Netflix’s own rankings, “Tiger King” has held the crown as the No. 1 most popular title overall in the U.S. over the past two weeks. Note, however, that Netflix’s Top 10 rankings are based on how many member accounts watched a given show or movie for at least 2 minutes over the previous 24 hours — an in-house metric the company claims is a better reflection of popularity than average time spent viewing (which is what Nielsen’s average minute audience metric gauges).  Netflix has not issued viewing numbers for “Tiger King” to date, as it has selectively done for past originals.

The docuseries centers on Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, proprietor of an Oklahoma roadside zoo who is a “mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country western singer,” per Netflix’s description of the docuseries. The story takes a sinister turn after animal activist Carole Baskin tries to shut down the big-cat breeders, leading to Joe Exotic’s arrest in connection with a murder-for-hire plot.

According to zoo owner Jeff Lowe, who appears in the docuseries, Netflix is releasing an extra episode of “Tiger King,” but the company has not confirmed that.

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” is directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, who serve as executive producers alongside Chris Smith and Fisher Stevens.

Nielsen’s SVOD Content Ratings, which track Netflix and Amazon Prime Video viewing, provide a third-party measure of viewing on streaming services. But they’re not a complete picture: Nielsen’s figures are extrapolated estimates that measure only programming watched on connected TVs (excluding mobile devices and PCs) and only among U.S. viewers.