There’s the assumption that African-Americans tend to prefer shows that feature Black celebrities. Evidence for this includes shows like On My Block, Orange Is the New Black, 13 Reasons Why and Insatiable that headed Deadline’s top-binged list of 2018. Our own Streamlytics research points to a more nuanced interpretation, where we found that it’s not so much character diversity that matters but rather the content itself.
While reports like those from Horowitz, Viant Technology and Nielsen found that African-Americans preferred shows with Black representation, an academic study argued that Netflix would continue losing African-American interest if the company exclusively focused on Black-cast content.
Writing for the Flow Journal, University of Iowa researcher Tim Havens argued that no audience research ever measures real viewers’ and their tastes.” Havens added, “It may also be the case that the Netflix library offers little of interest for African-American viewers, driving under subscription rates because those potential subscribers know there will be little content for them.”
In 2018, Deadline, the popular streaming platform, named television shows with Black representation on its top binged list. This confirmed research agency Horowitz’s report that found that 64% of Black TV streamers said they preferred shows that feature Black characters. In contrast, when Streamlytics asked its African-American population which shows they preferred, we found that most of our respondents focused on the content rather than on the race of the characters or cast.
Here’s a breakdown of our research, followed by its reduction into three age-groups:
Top series among African-Americans (females v. males):
- YOU (83% v. 27%)
- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (74% v. 26%)
- On My Block (58% v. 42%)
- Turn up Charlie (58% v. 42%)
- The Umbrella Academy (45% v. 55%)
A follow-up group of African-American female millennials reported they preferred the following:
We split our results into three age groups:
Top shows among African-Americans: Ages 18-24
Top shows among African-Americans: Ages 25-34
Top shows among African-Americans: Ages 35-54
When we tested for the preference for content with Black casts, we found that only five out of these 18 top-rated shows actually featured Black characters. The Umbrella Academy, for instance, is a family of quirky whites (and one gorilla); On My Block has Hispanic and Latinx characters in addition to Black actors; the characters and cast of YOU are White, as are those of Once Upon a Time and the Vampire Diaries. The animated Wakfu is color-blind. Other top-rated shows like Marie Kondo have Asian celebrities.
Overall, we found that our respondents favored shows with civic and political issues (like emerging technology (YOU) and an impending apocalypse (The Umbrella Academy). Many respondents indicated their preference for shows that featured issues of Identity (e.g., On My Block), as well as stories of hope and ingenuity (e.g., Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Turn up Charlie). There was also a preference for series that demonstrated doggedness against all odds (e.g., Russian Doll).
While Horowitz found that only 57% of African-American streamers choose shows for their racial or other socio-political themes, our findings suggest that the preference for content over content diversity may actually be the defining factor in attracting African-American viewers.
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