A new study from UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, published last week, reveals that – hold onto your seats – TV shows with ethnically diverse lead cast members and writers, attract much larger audiences than shows with less diversity in their cast and crew.
I’ll wait for you to pick your jaw up from the floor…
Shocking, right? Who knew?
Yes, I’m being sarcastic, if that’s not obvious enough.
The study is titled “Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television.“
“It’s clear that people are watching shows that reflect and relate to their own experiences,” said Bunche Center director Darnell Hunt, a professor of sociology at UCLA and author of the new study.
And this comes to us despite the fact that, as other studies continue to report each year, women and minorities are still terribly underrepresented in leading roles and staff positions, on both cable and broadcast TV programs, in front of and behind the camera.
“This is one of the first studies, to my knowledge, that attempts to flesh out the relationship between the issue of diversity among cast members and writers and the bottom line,” Hunt said, adding, “While this brief is just the first snapshot in what we envision as a multi-year study, it certainly lends support to an argument we have been making for a long time. Everyone in the industry talks about the importance of diversity, but it clearly isn’t priority one when decisions are made. And it’s not going to be a priority until people realize how it affects the bottom line.”
I recently half-joked about how instrumental the additions of Angela Bassett and Gabourey Sidibe to the cast of this season of American Horror Story were, in helping its premiere episode become the most-watched telecast ever of the American Horror Story franchise, recording 5.54 million total viewers, ranking #1 for the night in Adults 18-34 against all broadcast competition in primetime (8-11pm).
And away from the small screen, to the big screen, one of the most successful movie franchises in cinema history, Fast & Furious, has seen its box office earnings continue to impress with each installment, which, as we’ve noted in previous posts, is likely due in some part to the movie’s diverse cast and crew.
The overall complexion of the world – specifically the USA – is gradually changing, and it’s something that should not be ignored, especially if you’re creating content for a mass, mainstream audience. We all want to see ourselves on screen – at least I certainly think so. Quite a bold concept, isn’t it?
The study is the first in a series that will be done for the Bunche Center’s Hollywood Advancement Project, which will track, over time, diversity in the TV and film industry. It will also serve to identify best practices for increasing the participation of underrepresented groups.
I’d like to think there is already some awareness of this within Hollywood studio executive offices – especially in 2013. Although, the evidence doesn’t entirely support that. Or maybe it’s starting to.
It was in 1945 that research was first used to aid in defining Blacks as consumers. The study was initiated by the Afro-American Newspaper Group, in collaboration with the Urban League. A summary of the findings confirmed that blacks were a viable market segment (Wow, really? Who knew?), but the racial attitudes of the time prevented most marketers from pursuing the opportunity to fully exploit that very viable market segment.
Almost 70 years later, with African American buying power specifically, said to be something like $1.5 trillion annually, it’s really incredible that many marketers are still very much ignoring the African American market (in all its diversity) including those shortsighted thinkers in Hollywood.
Man, where’s Putney Swope when you need him… Truth & Soul Inc, 2013 style, lacks.
And while the UCLA study’s title suggests its specifically focused on cable TV, the report does also contain information on broadcast TV as well. As it states, the importance of diversity to the bottom line was just as significant in broadcast TV as it was in cable, as household ratings spiked among broadcast television shows that were 41 to 50 percent minority, while ratings took a dive for shows with casts that had a 10 percent or less minority presence.
You can download the full report via UCLA’s Bunche Center website HERE. I looked it over in putting together this post, but I plan to give it a much more thorough read through later, so there might be an addendum.