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“The Last Dance,” a joint project from ESPN and Netflix, based on the former basketball star’s run with the Chicago Bulls, had a strong ratings performance as the last two episodes of the 10-part documentary, strung out over the last five Sunday nights, averaged 5.9 million viewers, Nielsen said. It was simulcast on ESPN and ESPN2.
“We are thrilled with the response from fans throughout the run of the series,” Connor Schell, executive vice president of content at ESPN, said in a statement sent to FOX Business. "The past five Sunday nights have brought fans together providing the type of communal viewing experience traditionally reserved for live sports.”
He added the “exceptional content of the series has cut through culturally and sparked conversations far beyond ESPN platforms. We are grateful to Jason and his creative team and all of our production partners on the film and look forward to seeing fans continue to engage with ‘The Last Dance’ in the days and weeks ahead through the ESPN app.”
The documentary’s performance marked the highest-rated documentary project ever for the sports network. It was also a desperately needed bright spot for ESPN, which has been suffering because of the absence of live sporting events during the coronavirus pandemic.
Live viewership for each episode ranged between 4.9 and 6.3 million people, meaning viewers kept coming back, Nielsen said. The live count will ultimately be a fraction of the series’ impact. Adding delayed viewing through DVRs and reruns, the first episode has already been seen nearly 15 million times, ESPN said.
In addition to the Neilsen ratings, “The Last Dance” became a highly talked about topic on social media, landing the top trending topic spot on Twitter for five consecutive Sundays. It was also the No. 1 most social series on a per-episode basis across TV year-to-date, according to the statement. Plus, it landed in the top-10 prime-time programs across TV overall, including sports events, award shows and other series.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.