The fourth season of “Stranger Things” will be released in two chunks; the first volume of seven episodes debut May 27 and the final two episodes start streaming July 1. A unique mix of popularity, movie-length episodes, an extra episode, and historic viewing patterns mean it is almost guaranteed “Stranger Things 4” will dethrone “Bridgerton” on Netflix’s own all-time “Most Popular TV (English)” rankings.
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But it’s got a long way to go to get there. Season 2 of “Bridgerton” racked up 656.26 million hours viewed in the 28 days after it was released March 25. And what record-holder did “Bridgerton” Season 2 eclipse? “Bridgerton” Season 1, which viewers watched for 625.49 million hours in its first 28 days. It dethroned then-reigning champ “Stranger Things 3” on the Netflix-maintained (and occasionally EY-audited) list. “ST3” and both “Bridgerton” seasons were eight episodes each.
Technically, two foreign-language series outperformed both “Bridgerton” seasons. The absolute phenomenon that was “Squid Game: Season 1” tallied a whopping 1.65 billion hours viewed in its first four full weeks on the platform. “Money Heist: Part 5” netted 792 million hours. Part 4 of “Money Heist” outdid “Stranger Things 3” with 619 million hours watched vs. 582 million.
The most recent season of “Stranger Things” premiered way back in July 2019. Back then, when Netflix was even more selective about reporting viewership, the company said 64 million households watched “Stranger Things 3” in its first four weeks of release, making it the biggest “Stranger Things” season to date. The 40.7 million accounts that watched the show within four days of its July 4 debut also gave Netflix its biggest-ever audience for a movie or TV series in a four-day window.
Netflix has since moved from measuring via households and accounts to its standardized “Hours Viewed in First 28 Days,” with “Stranger Things 3” tallying 582.1 million hours. “Stranger Things 2” used to be on this list with roughly 427 million hours viewed within its first 28 days. It’s since been bumped. Viewing hours for the original season of “Stranger Things” have never been shared externally; they would have been if it were Top 10 material when the list started on June 28, 2021.
Below is the all-time (English) Top 10 — at least, before “Stranger Things 4” has its way with the list.
Why are we so confident about the inevitable “Stranger Things 4” dominance? Recency bias, here in the form of disproportionately rewarding new programming vs. old, plays a key role in our prediction. With the exception of last quarter’s shocking decline, Netflix has added subscribers each quarter for a decade, so there are (almost) always more potential viewers for current programming than past programming. When “Stranger Things 3” came out, Netflix had 152 million global paid subscribers; “Stranger Things 4” enters a world where Netflix has 222 million subs.
According to a custom Nielsen report run for IndieWire, “Stranger Things 3” nearly doubled the minutes viewed of “Bridgerton” Season 2 within their respective first two weeks of availability. “ST3” scored almost 10.7 billion minutes viewed (by Nielsen’s count, about 178 million hours) while “BS2” generated about 5.6 billion minutes, or nearly 94 million hours. As it happens, the total runtime for “BS2” was 496 minutes (8 hours, 16 minutes), or three-quarters of an hour more than “ST3.”
Netflix’s Top 10 lists are not adjusted for run times, which is one of the reasons it separates movies from TV. It’s also why the relatively lengthy “Maid” made the list — for now.
All in, “Stranger Things 4” will run around 13 hours — almost five hours longer than Netflix’s current record-holder — thanks in part to a finale comprised of three movie-length episodes. The first volume will end with a 1 hour, 38 minute-long episode, according to Nielsen. Then in July, the second volume will premiere with a 1 hour, 25 minute episode and the whopper of a finale clocks in at nearly 2 hours 30 minutes. For context, that’s longer than Marvel’s latest, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
The longest episodes of “Stranger Things” to date were barely over an hour, with the Season 2 finale running 62 minutes. The “Stranger Things” 3 finale was 76 minutes long.
Another thing that will probably prove to be not long, comparatively speaking? That “Bridgerton” Season 2 all-time record.
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