Are one million views enough?

28 million people in the UK watched Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, joined by another 11.4 U.S. viewers. These astonishing numbers reveal the cultural significance of the Queen’s life and death and signify a declining trend in viewing habits. There are fewer and fewer shared experiences that bring us together anymore.

Let’s put the numbers into perspective. Certainly, the global audience paused at least for a few moments on September 19 to witness the solemn pageantry of the funeral, and the viewer numbers align with similar events in the recent past: Harry and Meaghan’s wedding, Princess Diana’s funeral, the Atlanta Olympics Opening Ceremony, and the 2018 World Cup Final. It’s safe to say that “everyone watched” at least part of these historic events.

But is that accurate?

Back in the day we talked about “water cooler” moments, the shared experiences that average people discuss around the office. However, we no longer have water coolers at the office (for that matter, many of us no longer have offices), and we rarely have shared experiences. There was a time when cultural tentpoles like Saturday Night Live were part of the zeitgeist, but the plethora of viewing options have radically reduced the concept of “big ratings.”

Top-rated television shows like Netflix’s Cobra Kai or HBO Max’s House of the Dragon aren’t anywhere close to pulling in the numbers that successful content creators command. Mark Rober grabbed the attention of 104 million pairs of eyeballs with his Backyard Squirrel Maze.

Let that sink in for a minute.

That’s over SIX TIMES the number of viewers for House of the Dragon’s 16 million viewers (which HBO Max was thrilled to achieve). What this breakdown of numbers tells us is that there’s an enormous gap between what we think audiences are watching and what they actually watch.

For content creators, this means we have to study the Mark Robers of the world and figure out why he’s able to entertain 104 million viewers and what takeaways are applicable to our own content.

Big numbers matter. Big numbers are the only true measure of what people care about at scale. Studying viral content reveals the underlying mechanisms and performance drivers that lead to big numbers. Applying those learnings is how we make people care at scale about our content so we can become the zeitgeist instead of chasing it.


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