Black representation

Research Roundup: Black Audiences Want Nuance, Context and Depth in What They See

Reaching Black audiences has long been a goal of corporations, coveting them as consumers, and media outlets similarly want to capture their attention. As a result, representation of Black people in advertising, online and broadcast content has grown in prevalence in complexity.

This increase follows the trajectory of Black Americans’ buying power, which increased by 114% between 2000 and 2018, according to an annual report from the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth titled “The Multicultural Economy.” In 2020, African American buying power rose to $1.6 trillion, or 9% of the nation’s buying power.

Nielsen recently released the latest installment of their African American Diverse Intelligence Series titled, “Seeing and Believing: Meeting Black audience demand for representation that matters,” an examination of how corporate retailers and media outlets are performing with this demographic. The results show that there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Black Americans have a rich and powerful legacy that has helped shape cultures and identities around the world. Despite this, their representation in media often loses the complexity and nuances of their experience. Even worse: when it is present, it’s undervalued.

Black Americans video stream and listen to radio and podcasts like other consumers. However, their intentionality in spending money to support Black-owned businesses does set them apart somewhat. In an era driven by social media and conscious consumerism, Black Americans lead conversations that have an unprecedented impact on brands and what consumers watch, purchase, and listen to.

“As the media industry looks to be more inclusive of Black storytellers and brands look to grow their bottom lines and brand awareness with Black audiences, understanding who we are, where we’re connected, and how we’re changing is as important as ever,” said Charlene Polite Corley, VP of Diverse Insights & Partnerships at Nielsen. “All of this work translates to the acknowledgment of the value the Black community delivers ‘for the culture’ and beyond.”

Key findings

Black America is taking control of both the economic and media influence they hold, and they are using it to invest in Black experiences, Black communities and Black content.

  • 2 out of 3 Black viewers are more likely to watch content that visibly features Black talent and buy from brands that advertise in representative content.
  • In 2021, Black viewing power was at 1.06 trillion.

Black audiences will move to platforms where representation matches the nuance of their lives. Platforms and content that are most representative of their community and identity group are most successful.

  • According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 9% of America’s rural population is Black, defying the urban stereotype.
  • Another 16% of Black Americans report speaking a language other than English at home. The number of people identifying as “Black in combination with another race” has also increased 89% in the last decade. For example, Afro-Latinos are 8% of today’s U.S. Black population.
  • As a result of this growing complexity, 58% of Black audiences say there’s still not enough representation of their identity group on screen.
  • Nearly a quarter of the reported genres in Gracenote Inclusion Analytics reported zero representation of Black talent in recurring lead roles.

Content preferences include audio with traditional radio reaching 92% of the U.S. Black population each week. This same group of listeners averages over an hour and a half a week of streaming audio.

  • Traditional radio continues to prove the power of its reach, providing the gossip, pandemic guidance and breaking news that’s kept Black listeners connected this year for over 21 million minutes a week.
  • Black listeners aren’t just streaming audio more than other audiences; they’re listening closely to what brands support the content they like — averaging a 73% brand recall for podcast ads.

The power of social media for driving the conversation and consuming more content is clear.

  • Social media remains a prominent part of Black people’s daily media routine, providing a source for nuanced content and digital influencers.
  • 51% of Black people 18 and up spend time daily on TikTok; 29% of the same demographic spend time daily on Instagram.

Audience influence and advocacy are intertwined as Black creators and viewers across platforms unify to uproot exploitation within the media ecosystem and create a sense of urgency for social change.

  • 27% of credited writers were Black on the most representative broadcast and cable dramas for Black talent in the first quarter of 2021.
  • 70% of representation isn’t just for endemic networks as seven out of the 10 top dramas for Black talent representation aired on general audience networks.

In the era of personalization and inclusion in media, Black audiences worldwide are looking to see their collective and distinct experiences represented. 

  • Black America delivers over 1 trillion viewing minutes in a single quarter but is also twice as likely to feel portrayals of their identity group on T.V. are inaccurate.
  • Jamaica has a culture with global influence, including places like the U.K. and 20% of the foreign-born Black population in the U.S.
  • Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, outsources global trends like Afrobeats and “Nollywood” films, and is considered home for 18% of foreign-born Black people in the U.S.

Businesses need to demonstrate their understanding of the diverse segments within the Black community. 

  • Black men have a high on-screen presence in T.V. content with a 15.5% share of screen time, but 44% of Black men feel that the content that portrayed their identity group on-screen was inaccurate.
  • While the number of advertisers spending in traditional media focused on reaching African Americans has been up 16% since last summer, Black men are increasingly engaged outside of these platforms to find forums that offer nuanced representation, connection, and solace.
  • Black women are twice as likely as overall viewers to seek out content that represents them on screen.
  • Embracing the impact of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is a strong example of when brands show they understand the nuances of the Black experience. It is the opportunity to connect with diverse communities on personal, culturally relevant levels.

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