African-Americans Step Up TV Viewing in Pandemic

Starz's 'Ghost'
African-American viewers are looking for shows that reflect their culture, such as Starz’s Power Book II: Ghost. (Image credit: Starz)

Pandemic quarantines and social injustice protests around the country have led to more African-American consumers viewing TV content, and has fueled those viewers’ desire to see more content that represents and depicts them, according to Nielsen.

Going into the pandemic, African-Americans were watching 13 more hours of traditional television a week than white viewers during first-quarter 2020, according to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report for second quarter 2020. As Black viewers settled in and began working from home this summer, they continued to watch more television than other ethnic groups, according to Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior VP of U.S. strategic community alliances and consumer engagement. 

During August, 24% if African-Americans were watching video content while working from home, compared with 16% of the overall population, Grace said at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference on Sept. 18. “Many of us have the television on without the sound,” she said. 

For the week of March 23, 60% of the top 20 shows among African-Americans age 2 and older had majority Black casts, Nielsen reported, compared to just two such shows among the general population. “What it shows is that if you build it, they will come,” Grace said. “We’ve seen an increase between 2016 and today of about 4.6% of content being reflective of African-Americans, but we still have a long way to go. We make up 14% of the population, so it’s not lost on us that we’re not yet as reflective in content as we are in the population.” 

Grace’s comments support a recent National Research Group survey, which found that more than three in four African-Americans believe media outlets perpetuate negative stereotypes of them and that more content reflective of their lives is needed.

The survey of 1,300 Americans also revealed that 92% of African-Americans and 82% of all Americans want to see more diverse stories with characters that break racial stereotypes. Three in four Americans (74%) also said content being representative of different cultures or people is a key factor when choosing what to watch. 

“The high level of consumer interest in diverse stories and voices surfaced very strongly in this research,” said Cindi Smith, VP of the diversity, equity and inclusion practice at National Research Group. “We believe our insights can inspire creators and marketers to get behind stories that offer a fresh point of view and bring to light more multifaceted identities.” 

African-Americans should continue to pressure cable networks to create more content that reflects their lives and to put more people of color both in front
of and behind the camera, UMC chief content officer Brett Dismuke said at the Congressional Black Caucus conference. African-Americans “account for 25% of box-office receipts but also account for 30% to 35% of cable viewing statistics,” Dismuke said. “We have to demand from [industry] CEOs and our networks that the decision-making rooms have to reflect their viewership.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.