Controversial documentary Leaving Neverland has already proved a ratings bonanza for TVNZ - with more than 700,000 people tuning in to watch the first night's allegations of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson.

The first part of the two-part docuseries aired on TVNZ 1 last night and was the most watched programme in the 8.30pm slot. The second episode screens tonight.

A total of 716,000 Kiwis tuned in with an average audience - those who watched the show from start to finish - of 284,000, the state broadcaster said.

On top of that, more than 13,000 viewers livestreamed the documentary which has since been streamed more than 24,000 times on TVNZ OnDemand - a number which TVNZ says is only expected to grow.


A spokesperson described the documentary as "a major TV event" which has "connected [fans] to a global conversation about Michael Jackson and his legacy".

The documentary saw TVNZ 1's usual ratings for the Sunday 8.30pm slot increase by 38 per cent - "showing the power of this emotional story".

Leaving Neverland has been making headlines around the world for its graphic nature - requiring mental health professionals to be available for viewers when it premiered at Sundance - and divisive commentary regarding child sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson.

Even before it landed in New Zealand, Leaving Neverland was dividing viewers with devout fans planning to boycott the New Zealand premiere of the documentary and instead ramp up views of Jackson's videos on Netflix and YouTube.

Facebook fan page "Michael Jackson Fans in New Zealand - 2015" posted on Thursday evening urging fans to boycott the screening in an attempt to "put a glitch" in the documentary's ratings and shift them towards positive coverage of the late pop star.

And reaction now that part one has aired is split, with many insisting on the pop star's innocence, while others have deemed it "necessary viewing".

Part two of Leaving Neverland airs on TVNZ 1 at 8.30pm tonight.