RS West ’16: Understanding audiences and diversity

Endemol Shine North America's Vivi Zigler and her panelists walked delegates at Realscreen West through a comprehensive examination of the demographics and viewing needs of U.S. television audiences.
June 9, 2016

Just as the content side of U.S. unscripted television is stirring, readjusting and evolving, so too is the make-up of its audiences.

Data on American viewership went under the microscope at Realscreen West’s “Make or Break: Understanding Your Audience” panel on Wednesday (June 8), with examinations of age, race, sex and buying power revealing a clear need for more understanding of changing demographics, and in particular, Latino audiences.

Below are four takeaways from the session, which was moderated by Vivi Zigler (pictured), president of digital, brand and audience development for Endemol Shine North America. Panelists included Axel Caballero, executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP); Maitee Cueva, senior VP of programming and development for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network; and executive producer Faye Stapleton.

1.) Spanish-language content still key for Latinos in the U.S. 

In a discussion on assimilation patterns and entertainment, NALIP’s Axel Caballero noted that English-language content for Latino audiences is reaching primarily young viewers because older Latinos still prefer Spanish-language programming.

“When you’re talking about English, you’re talking about two or three generations down, but that’s assuming that immigration stops. I always hear those numbers about how the increase [of the U.S. Latino population] will mean the content needs to be re-directed to the younger demographic of Latinos, but that’s assuming again that we’re not going to keep coming, and we are.

“I’m sorry for those that don’t like it, but we are. That’s just the nature of the things that are happening right now, and therefore, the Spanish-language component is still going to be very, very important.”

2.) More diversity needed behind the scenes

Later in the session, Nielsen data on what viewers are watching – broken down by ethnicity – showed that the top five primetime shows for black audiences were programs with African American casts, such as Love & Hip HopLove & Hip Hop Hollywood and Black Ink Crew. Meanwhile, the most popular programs for Hispanics were La BandaAmerican Idol and The Voice. Top viewing for Asian Americans included The VoiceLittle Big Shots and American Idol - results that suggest a lack of unscripted programming targeting Asian American audiences.

VH1's Love and Hip Hop

VH1′s Love and Hip Hop

Reflecting on the data, Zigler asked, “If I want to reach black Americans in a show I’m making, do I need to be black American? Can I reach men if I’m a female producer? Do I have to reflect the audience that I want on my screen and behind the scenes?”

In response, OWN’s Maitee Cueva said that while diversity was important in your crew, the programming ultimately needed to cater to “basic human need.”

“The women that are going through the things they go through on Teen Mom, all women go through that stuff. And Kardashians, such a big female-loving family that fights and loves each other and is there for each other – it’s all human need,” said Cueva.

Caballero disagreed, reasoning that because of fast-changing demographics within the Latino community, a natural and honest connection from the first-hand experience of a writer, producer or director adds a lot of value to the content.

“It would be a detriment to not include that when you’re thinking that you’re approaching a multi-generational audience or Latino audience. Why would you not? It’s basic common sense to incorporate that with your show.”

Elsewhere, Faye Stapleton touched on the gender divide in unscripted, noting that, firstly, as more women are hired, and then across all positions, there will be greater opportunities to tackle diverse subject matter (referencing Zigler’s example of a woman producing a docuseries about the NHL).

“All you have to do is really have a passion for something to be able to imagine the story you want to tell, and find the right people to interview or the right thing to look at,” she said.

3.) Who has the buying power?

Looking forward, data on buying power was perhaps one of the most salient indicators of the future media landscape. While white Americans currently have US$12.5 trillion in buying power, this number has increased by just 32% since 1990, whereas Asian Americans have only $1 trillion in buying power, but it has risen by 736% since 1990. Similarly, Hispanic Americans have $1.7 trillion in buying power, and that figure has grown by 710% since 1990. Meanwhile, black Americans have $1.4 trillion in buying power, and it has increased by 343% since 1990.

Asked if Latinos will be “flexing muscles” in buying power in the future, Caballero agreed it would be more perceivable in the next few years. “Particularly when we can aggregate the numbers and better identify the numbers beyond Nielsen and into online, digital, OTT. We can get a better understanding of what that means for both ad placement and consumption. It’s going to alter what we think in terms of ad revenue.”

4.) Co-viewing realities

While there is currently a roughly 50-50 divide between men and women in the U.S. population, a TV gender split showed that 55% of TV viewers are female and 45% are male.

Zigler asked Cueva if the network tries to program to both men and women, or “laser focus” on just women and hope men also tune in.

The exec said OWN primarily programs to women but co-viewing is still a priority, and she looks for nuggets in programming that appeal to multiple demographics. “We do look for programs that are for our core lady, but can she watch it with her husband? Can she watch it with her children? That’s something we look for.”

Meanwhile, Caballero offered that assumptions about family-oriented Latino viewers need to be adjusted. A family can be in the same room, but now – more than ever – it’s likely that each family member is watching something separate on a different device.

“They may be together but the device component and the way they’re receiving that content – and the content doesn’t speak universally – makes a difference. At a marriage level, I think that’s still the case – you’re going to get two-for-one, as in traditional [generations].”

(Photo by Nelson Blanton)

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.