How many people watched the second season of Outlander?

It may seem like a simple question, with a (presumably) straightforward answer, but television in 2016 is more complicated than it has ever been, and figuring out exactly how popular or successful a show really is can be a challenge. As we know, the internet abhors a vacuum, so in the absence of definitive information, there has been some wild speculation. The second season was a disaster! The audience grew every single week! The finale was the most popular episode! The audience obviously loves Frank! The audience obviously hates Frank! Diana Gabaldon’s episode saved the show! More people watched the premiere than watched the Apollo 11 landing!

So we’re going to break down the live audience numbers for the entire season, look at the specifics and at the trends, and come to a deeply uncontroversial conclusion: Outlander is doing pretty okay.

First, some definitions:

  • The Live number is the audience who watched Starz when the episode aired.
  • The Live+7 number is the audience who watched as the episode aired, or any time within the next week, including home recordings and reruns.
  • These numbers only include the broadcast and home recording audience; Starz doesn’t release the audience figures for their app, or for streaming services like Amazon.

A note on streaming figures: we do know that the season two premiere had a total, multiplatform audience of around five million people. If a subsequent episode had outperformed the premiere, we would have seen a press release. So while we don’t know the final figure for any particular episode, we can be fairly confident that the Live and Live+7 figures accurately reflect the audience trend, and Outlander peaked at around five million.

We should also be careful when we use the audience figure for any particular episode as an indicator of the quality of that episode. While marketing and expectation obviously play important roles, the audience would not know that a given episode is particularly good — or particularly bad — when sitting down to watch. If anything, the best indicator of an episode’s popularity would be the audience figure for the next episode.

Here, then, are the audience figures for the second season:

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By contrast, here is a graph of the live audience figures for the entire series, beginning with the first season:


As you can see, while the second season average was a little higher than the first — 1.09m vs. 1.04m — several first season episodes outperformed the season two average, and several season two episodes failed to meet the season one average. The second-highest rating is in season one; the second-lowest rating is in season two. Within a decent margin of error, the live numbers are consistent between both seasons. There may be a higher multiplatform average for the second season, given the distribution deal with Amazon, but unless Starz decides to release that information — and rest assured, they know exactly how many people watched each episode, and how many times each person watched; they just don’t release the data — we are left with speculation and anecdotal evidence. In the absence of other information, it seems safe to assume that Outlander actually showed modest, sustainable growth through its second season.

And while that may not be the most outrageous, controversial, click-baity conclusion, it is probably the best for the future of the show. Starz doesn’t release contract information, so we don’t know exactly what the budget for the second season was, nor the budget for third and fourth seasons. We don’t know how many people subscribe to Starz specifically for Outlander. We don’t know how much money the show makes for Starz, or how much was spent on the marketing push behind the season premiere. We can be confident that the second season met expectations, more or less, because of the subsequent pick-up, but beyond that, we don’t have enough information to speculate about the long-term viability of the show — and since we don’t know what was expected, a measurable, sustainable growth is pretty much the best thing that we can hope for.

Finally, just to round out the perception of the second season, here are the IMDb user ratings for each episode. These, of course, do speak more directly to the popularity and quality of each individual episode — at least from the perspective of the users of IMDb.


Our listeners, on the other hand, were a little more thoughtful about the season as a whole.

So, to recap: no, the second season wasn’t a disaster; no, the audience didn’t grow every single week; no, the finale was not the most popular episode; the audience remains understandably divided on Frank; no, Diana Gabaldon’s episode didn’t save the show; and surprisingly, Outlander has a ways to go before it’s more popular than the moon landing.

The Scot and The Sassenach will return with the third season of Outlander in 2017, but if the long gap between seasons is making you pine for the Highlands, join us for our Voyager Book Club, which begins this coming Saturday, September 24th, with chapters one to five!


Data compiled from The Nielsen Company, ShowBuzzDaily and Zap2It