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One of the most dazzlingly beautiful non-fiction series ever to hit the airwaves was Planet Earth back in 2006, and its high-definition footage took viewers to some of the wildest and most remote places on the planet. Six episodes of Planet Earth II were ordered by the BBC in 2016, and U.S. audiences finally got to see the first episode on February 18. Now, the numbers are in, and they're pretty impressive.
2.7 million viewers sat down to watch the first episode of Planet Earth II, called "Islands." Of those 2.7 million, 1.2 million were adults in the 15-54 age demographic, and 1 million were in the all-important 18-49 demographic. The numbers rank "Islands" as the most-watched nature program on American television in five years. Additionally, the episode officially ranks as the most-watched unscripted telecast ever in total viewers for BBC America.
The ratings have been calculated to include the live viewership on the night of February 18 as well as how many people tuned in to watch via streaming and DVR in the first three days after the episode aired. The Live+3 numbers saw the ratings increase by more than half, as the viewership grew by 51% and the demos grew by 69%. I'd say February 18 was a successful evening for the Planet Earth II crew.
Of course, the ratings were likely bolstered by the unusual way that the episode was broadcast. Instead of premiering only on BBC America, the first episode of Planet Earth II aired simultaneously on AMC and SundanceTV as well as BBC America. The three-network method of releasing the premiere likely made it a lot easier for many people to tune in, as not all cable packages include BBC America. Unfortunately, the rest of Planet Earth II won't get the same treatment, and episodes will air exclusively on BBC America. It should be interesting to see how the ratings change moving forward.
Planet Earth II was also a major ratings hit in the U.K. When the show kicked off in November, a whopping 9.2 million people watched the premiere, making it the highest-rated natural history documentary program to air on the BBC in more than 15 years. On top of that, it became the sixth highest-rated episode to air in Britain in the whole TV season.
For those of us on the American side of the pond who are still waiting to see the rest of the six episodes, we at least have some idea of what's in store. I was already sold on tuning in when I saw the footage of giraffe vs. lion, although the video of snakes chasing a poor baby iguana certainly made me glad that I was watching from the snake-free comfort of my own home. There's no saying what other critters Planet Earth II has in store in dazzling UHD, so we'll have to wait and see.