Study: Diverse Casts Draw Eyes

TV shows with mostly multicultural casts tend to generate higher ratings among both diverse audiences and white viewers — even as a small number of minority actors and actresses are featured in lead roles on broadcast or cable shows, according to the UCLA 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report.

Shows in which minority actors comprised 50% or more of cast members drew the highest household ratings among African-American, Asian and Latino viewers, according to the report, which looked at scripted cable and broadcast TV shows during the 2013-14 season, Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, said during a session at the recent NAMIC Conference in New York. Shows with 40% to 50% minority casts generated the highest peak household ratings among white viewers, the report said.

Shows with 40% to 50% minority casts generated the highest peak household ratings among white viewers, according to the report, produced by the Bunch Center’s Race and Hollywood Project.

For cable, black households watched more content that featured majority minority casts like BET’s Being Mary Jane and Lifetime’s Devious Maids, while Latino household viewing peaked with casts featuring 31% to 40% minority actors, such as USA Network’s Suits, and white viewers watched more shows with 21% to 30% minority casts, similar to AMC’s The Walking Dead, according to the report.

On the social-media front, cable shows with more than 50% minority cast members averaged more than 9,000 Twitter posts, more than doubling the second highest performance of nearly 4,000 tweets drawn from shows with 21% to 30% minority casts, according to the report.

Despite the strong correlation to successful ratings for shows with significant minority casts, Hunt said the industry falls woefully short with regards to minority representation in front of the camera. Despite comprising 40% of the U.S. population, people of color still only counted for 8% of all lead roles on scripted broadcast television shows and 16.6% of cable scripted shows during the 2013-14 TV season.

“There is a disconnect — on the one hand, there’s not a lot of diversity behind and in front of the camera, but on the other hand diverse audiences are showing their desire for diverse programming,” he said.

Hunt said that the percentage of minority actors and actresses will certainly skew higher for next year’s report, as shows like Empire, Black-ish and Power are factored in. But the numbers still won’t fully correlate with the U.S. population numbers or with the ratings performances from shows with heavily multicultural casts, he said.

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.