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‘Fuller House’ Did ‘Empire’ Numbers (We Think)

Netflix
Netflix

If Netflix won’t tell us what people are watching, someone else is going to figure it out and tell us for them (and charge studios and networks a mint in the process). Right now, that someone seems to be Symphony Advanced Media, an independent data collection company — and what it’s telling us is that Rebootpocalypse punch line Fuller House is a CBS-level hit.

According to a report tracking streaming viewership within 35 days of a series’ release, the Full House sort-of sequel brought in an average audience of 14.4 million people per episode in the all-important 18–49 demo, enough to best the vast majority of broadcast television and put the Tanner clan within spitting distance of heavyweights like Empire and The Walking Dead. For those worrying about a culturewide regression to the worst of the ’90s, fear not: Symphony puts morally urgent docuseries Making a Murderer at no. 2, with 13.4 million in-demo viewers per episode. Quality counts, too.

A few caveats before we take Symphony’s word as gospel: Until now, Symphony was best known for providing the data that NBC’s ratings overlord Alan Wurtzel trotted out for the Television Critics’ Association — data that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos then dismissed as “remarkably inaccurate.” Its methodology also differs significantly from, say, Nielsen’s: Symphony employs the Big Brother–esque technology of “audio content recognition via cell phones.” And finally, most traditional ratings cut off at just seven days after initial air date, meaning Netflix could be getting a healthy boost from the extended survey window. (Making a Murderer’s viewership, for example, skyrocketed a mind-boggling 815 percent after its first week on the service.) But until Netflix starts telling us more than the obvious — did you know most binge-watching takes about a week? Of course you did, because you’ve done it — Symphony’s data is all we’ve got to go on.

Still, it would be neither a stretch nor a surprise to call Fuller House a success. Conventional wisdom holds that paid services need prestige programming to appeal to audiences passionate (and rich) enough to shell out the extra cash, even though networks like CBS garner more eyeballs with shows like NCIS and The Big Bang Theory. But with $6 billion to blow on original content, Netflix is trying to have it both ways. Really, they’re trying to have it all ways: arthouse features like Beasts of No Nation sit next to Adam Sandler’s The Do-Over, while a series like Jessica Jones coexists with Chelsea Handler’s talk show. Fuller House is part of Netflix’s push for a wider demographic than premium TV’s typical audience — and for a streaming model that looks more like a one-stop content hub. So far, it seems to be working.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly referred to the family from Fuller House as the Turners; they’re the Tanners.