Data: ‘Cecil Hotel’ Shows ‘Tiger King’-Sized Potential for Netflix

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Yinchen Niu/Variety Intelligence Platform

Nearly a year after Netflix scored one of its biggest series hits with “Tiger King,” it’s found another true-crime documentary series that almost matches the popularity of “Tiger King.” 

“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” made a big splash in the U.S. after debuting on Feb. 10, according to connected-TV analytics provider TVision, which exclusively provided data to Variety Intelligence Platform. A chilling story about the disappearance of a 21-year-old woman produced by Joe Berlinger, “Cecil” connected with an audience during the 14 days following its Feb. 10 debut that nearly rivaled the “Tiger King” viewership during the 14 days following its late March 2020 debut.  

TVision measures viewing across all major U.S. SVODs (including Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock, CBS All Access and Discovery+) and AVODs (YouTube, the Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Tubi). The analytics company tracks viewing of nearly 25,000 titles among 5,000 households (14,000 individuals) across the U.S. on connected TVs.  

Mobile device viewing is not measured by TVision, although U.S. adults 18+ spent much more time weekly with connected TV-devices than they did with video-focused mobile apps/video-focused mobile web usage in Q3 2020, per Nielsen.  

The audience of “Tiger King” during the two weeks following its March 2020 debut was 3.6 times as big as the average audience size of 15 true-crime original series TVision analyzed during the two weeks following each title’s debut. This figure was slightly lower for “Cecil,” at 3.3. 

“Tiger King” was Netflix’s biggest unscripted series by 14-day post-debut U.S. demand shortly after the “Joe Exotic”-focused doc premiered in 2020, as Parrot Analytics exclusively disclosed to VIP

Not only did “Cecil” approach “Tiger King” viewing levels, but it held its own against leading titles across genres on other streaming services, including Warner Bros.’ Oscar-nominated “Judas and the Black Messiah” (premiering Feb. 12) on HBO Max and Disney+’s “WandaVision” (which rolled out episodes weekly from Jan. 15 to March 5). “Cecil” also finished far stronger than Netflix’s reigning scripted hit for that month, “Firefly Lane,” according to TVision. 

The popularity of “Cecil” is likely in part due to the enigma the Elisa Lam case has become since 2013. The disappearance had been well covered in TV programs prior to Netflix’s “Cecil,” and it’s one of the most viral missing-person cases of the Internet era, as SFGate points out.  

Nielsen’s SVOD ratings have appeared to show a slightly different picture of the February streaming landscape, with Netflix’s “Firefly Lane” and “Ginny & Georgia” taking the top spots in its weekly streaming originals ranking during three of the weeks in February. “Cecil” managed to almost tie “Firefly” in the second week, before jumping ahead of it in the third week.

However, “Cecil” during the last week of February dropped dramatically in Nielsen’s ranking, and that could be one sign that “Cecil” may not enjoy the more sustained popularity of “Tiger King.” 

Keep in mind the Nielsen chart below and the TVision graphic above are measuring different metrics. Nielsen’s ranking is showing minutes viewed, whereas TVision’s ranking is portraying audience size reached.  

“Firefly Lane,” “Ginny & Georgia” and “Cecil” are all series with episodes that range from 50-60 minutes in length. But the former two titles are 10-episode series, while the latter only has 4 episodes. 

That is likely part of the reason why the true-crime docuseries dropped below “Firefly Lane” and “Ginny & Georgia” in the last week of February in Nielsen’s originals ranking, despite potentially having attracted more unique viewers than those two series last month. 

Still, the appearance of “Cecil” among Nielsen’s streaming rankings during the last three weeks of February is a reminder that the true-crime genre is capable of rivaling Netflix’s top zeitgeisty hits.