When it comes to the television climate for today's African-American viewer, there's no shortage of apropos movie quotes: "If you build it they will come." "We're going to need a bigger boat." "There's no place like home."
But it's "Show me the money" that best explains the biggest-ever boom in cable programming targeting African-Americans. For proof, look no further than the newly minted partnership between entertainment behemoths Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.
African-Americans watch 6.5 hours of TV a day, more than any other single demographic, according to a report Nielsen released last month in conjunction with the National Newspaper Publishers Association. As the largest racial minority group in the United States, African-Americans wield a collective buying power estimated to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015, according to the study. That number should, and is, raising eyebrows.
"It always goes back to profitability," said Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, SVP, public affairs and government relations at Nielsen.
The demographic also tends to be tech-savvy. African-Americans are 14% younger than the American population as a
whole. Additionally, the median age for African-Americans is 32, and 54% of the Black population is under the age of 35, according to Nielsen/NPAA. African-Americans over index on cell phone use, and a growing percentage watch television while multitasking on their mobile device, laptop or notebook, according to BET's EVP of corporate research Matthew Barnhill.
What are they watching? Pearson-McNeil says when you look at numbers both for the 18-49 demographic in prime time and 2+ for the total day, it's clear black viewers like to see themselves reflected on the small screen. This holds true across all types of programming. When CNN ran a special on Whitney Houston after the entertainer's death, the African-American number spiked. Same with reality shows prominently featuring African-Americans, she said.
"The thing they all have in common is they have black characters or black contestants," said Pearson-McNeil, who happens to be African-American. "We like good TV, like anyone else, but we like to see ourselves immersed in the story. If we're engaged with it, we will watch it."
That may be true, but the programming landscape remains somewhat uneven for the African-American viewer as blacks
remain underrepresented in broadcast with a few silver linings that point to possible change.
Kerry Washington as crisis management maven Olivia Pope, gives ABC's "Scandal" the first black female lead in a primetime drama series for almost 30 years. "Grey's Anatomy" supporting actor Chandra Wilson remains an integral part of the show, and spinoff "Private Practice." Entertainment personality Steve Harvey's just-launched daytime talk show on NBC is an early ratings success, with an average of 1.7 million viewers.
Additionally, the digital age ushered in new options for programmers to reach African-American viewers. Witness BounceTV, the first over-the-air broadcast network targeting African Americans with movies, live events, documentaries,
specials and original programming. It airs 24/7 on the digital signals of local TV stations, including stations in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.
BounceTV's new multiyear licensing deals with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (including "Bird," the original "Shaft" and "Rosewood") and Paramount Home Media Distribution (including "Critical Condition," "Mahogany" and "Heart Condition") bode well for the network's growth as it beefs up its "Brown Sugar Saturday Night" weekly primetime franchise.
But the biggest boom in black programming comes, not surprisingly, from the cable sector. The allure of unlimited distribution has seen BET swell to 90 million-plus homes, while newer nets like TV One are growing their numbers as
well. Cable also beckoned celebrities Oprah Winfrey, who launched her OWN network under the Discovery umbrella, and Magic Johnson, who heads Atlanta-based network Aspire.
Source: Cynopsis Media, October 2012
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