Whether they love Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a lot of viewers seem to want to watch them.
“Harry & Meghan,” the multipart Netflix documentary about the prince, his American actress wife, and their exit from their official duties with the Royal Family, has gained huge audiences since its debut.
According to Variety, the series was viewed for 81.6 million hours in its first week, making it the biggest documentary debut in the history of the streaming service. That’s based on the first three episodes that were released on December 8; three more arrived this week and ratings data is not available yet.
As of noon on Thursday, “Harry & Meghan” is #3 on the service’s Top 10 TV Shows in the U.S., behind “Wednesday” and “Too Hot to Handle.” However, the series likely has a great deal of appeal worldwide, as the exploits of the Royal Family are watched around the world.
“The series from Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus appeared in the Top 10 TV list in 85 countries, including #1 in the United Kingdom,” Netflix said in its ratings announcement. “After just four days, over 28M households have seen the first three episodes (81.55M divided by 2.9 hours).”
And those who watched have seen a lot, including Harry revealing that his brother, Prince William, “screamed” at him after he revealed that he was stepping back from day-to-day involvement with the family.
The series is arriving ahead of the publication next month of “Spare,” Prince Harry’s memoir.
What the “Harry & Meghan” series means to Netflix’s bottom line, on the other hand, is a separate question.
Netflix, back in the spring, announced that it had lost subscribers in a quarter for the first time in its history as a streaming company, and in the following quarter, it lost even more, although the company gained subscribers in the third quarter. This led to worries that the streaming media model might not be as solid as the industry had assumed for the last several years, something that reverberated to Netflix’s many rivals. Uncertainty at Disney+ has been named as one of many reasons why Disney made a shocking CEO switch back in November, with Bob Iger returning.
The company also made a few changes to its business model that it had long resisted, including adding an ad-supported tier and cracking down on password-sharing. And in the third quarter, it once again added subscribers, indicating that better days were ahead.
“After a challenging first half, we believe we’re on a path to reaccelerate growth,” the company’s CEO Reed Hastings said in the company’s third-quarter earnings release. “The key is pleasing members. It’s why we’ve always focused on winning the competition for viewing every day. When our series and movies excite our members, they tell their friends, and then more people watch, join and stay with us.”
Can the success of “Harry & Meghan,” all by itself, have an effect on Netflix’s business? Unless it can drive a massive amount of subscriptions, and those subscribers stay on, probably not.
Each quarter in its earnings, Netflix lists the shows that were most watched that quarter. In the third quarter, those shows were “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” “Stranger Things” Season 4, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” “The Gray Man,” and “Purple Hearts.”
There’s a good chance “Harry & Meghan” will make that list for Netflix in the fourth quarter. But it’s a show that’s only six hours, which drives less engagement than shows with longer seasons, and it’s also a one-shot series that appears unlikely to have a second season, at least for now. And in these days of high churn, some of those signing up for Netflix just to watch “Harry and Meghan” might cancel their subscriptions once they’re done watching the show.
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.