To say that the Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) original documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness was a huge hit would likely be an understatement. The program chronicled the exploits of zookeeper Joe Exotic, a big cat enthusiast who was accused in a murder-for-hire plot involving an animal-rights activist and rival. About 64 million viewers "chose to watch" the true-crime drama, according to Netflix (more on that below). The show also scored an 86% "Fresh" rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. 

The significant demand for the series was confirmed by Nielsen's Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) Content Ratings, reportedly racking up more than 5.3 billion minutes watched in its first full week of release, and 19 million viewers during the first 10 days following its debut. Netflix consistently points out that Nielsen's numbers leave out mobile and international viewers, providing an incomplete picture. 

Yet, for all its popularity, Tiger King will likely be outdone by an even more popular international thriller.

A man in a sequined shirt hugging a tiger.

Joe Exotic in a scene from Netflix original Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. Image source: Netflix.

And the winner is...

Spanish-language series La Casa de Papal, known as Money Heist in English-speaking markets, is now in its fourth season, making it one of Netflix's longest-running foreign-language series. While it was only released in early April, season four is on track to attract 65 million viewers in the first four weeks after its debut. If the program continues to perform as Netflix expects, it will surpass Tiger King as the platform's most-watched series released in the first quarter. To give those figures some context, Netflix said The Witcher -- its breakout hit in the fourth quarter of 2019 -- attracted 76 million viewers.

The third season of Money Heist smashed Netflix's global household viewing record for a non-English series, with 44 million households tuning into the series within the first four weeks after its debut, so it appears the current season is drawing even more interest. 

The worldwide popularity of Money Heist helps to illustrate the growing importance of Netflix's global subscriber base.

The growing importance of international viewers

For the first quarter, Netflix released detailed growth metrics for each of the company's major markets, further illustrating the growing importance of its global subscriber base:

Users By Market

Q1 2020

Q1 2019

YOY change

U.S. and Canada

69.97 million

66.63 million

5%

Europe, Middle East, Africa

58.73 million

42.54 million

38%

Latin America

34.32 million

27.55 million

25%

Asia, Pacific

19.84 million

12.14 million

63%

Data source: Netflix Q1 2020 earnings release. YOY = Year-over-year.

Each of the company's major geographic regions generated significantly higher growth than its more mature North American market.

A view or not a view -- that is the question

It's important to note that Netflix recently changed the criteria of what constitutes a "view." Prior to its fourth-quarter earnings release in January, Netflix said it considered someone a "viewer" if they watched 70% of a film or television episode. 

The company decided to move the goalpost earlier this year. Going forward, Netflix said a viewer would be counted when they "Chose to watch or did watch for at least two minutes -- long enough to indicate the choice was intentional." Some would argue that watching two minutes of a movie or a series hardly qualifies as a view.

Highlighting Netflix's global strategy

One of the most important components of Netflix's future growth will no doubt be the company's international audience. Consistent with its U.S. policy, the streaming giant has been creating original content in each of its biggest global markets, and through the wonders of closed captioning (subtitles), those programs can be enjoyed by viewers around the world.

The success of La Casa de Papal (aka Money Heist) illustrates the importance of Netflix's global view and also lays out a compelling case for the company's growth going forward.