Streaming platforms leading the way in on-screen diverse representation: Nielsen’s report

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New York: The explosion of new television platforms across broadcast, streaming and cable has led to an increase in on-screen representation of diverse identity groups, according to Nielsen’s latest Diverse Intelligence Series report: Being Seen on Screen: Diverse Representation and Inclusion on TV.

Among the 300 most-viewed programmes in 2019, 92% had some level of diversity in the cast (i.e. women, people of color or LGBTQ+). Whites, African Americans and LGBTQ+ had the largest overall share of screen while Women, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans were underrepresented relative to their population estimates. The report uncovers notable differences in identity group representation across different platforms; with streaming over-indexing on representation for certain identity groups versus traditional broadcast and cable.

In this report, Being Seen on Screen: Diverse Representation and Inclusion on TV, Nielsen reports on scripted, reality, variety and news programming on key metrics:

  • Share of Screen (SOS)[1]: composition of the top 10 recurring cast members in a program
  • Inclusion Opportunity Index (IOI): compares the SOS of an identity group (e.g. women) to their representation in population estimates
  • Inclusion Audience Index (IAI): compares the SOS of an identity group to their representation in a program’s audience.

The report is powered by Gracenote Inclusion Analytics, a new solution delivering cutting-edge metrics created from Gracenote content metadata and Nielsen audience measurement data, providing the industry with consistent and reliable measurement of granular viewing. The report also leverages Gracenote Video Descriptors, metadata relating to story, mood, character, theme and scenario in each program.

Key insights from the report include:

Overall, representation of diverse identity groups in on-screen programming is low across all media platforms. Streaming fares better for inclusion followed by broadcast and cable. Viewing audiences are increasingly seeking content that tells their stories. As a result, people are migrating to platforms that have broad and more diverse content offerings.

  • Representation by platform (Broadcast, Cable, Streaming): Nearly one-third of the content on cable doesn’t have parity representation of Indigenous, People of Color (Black, Native American, Asian & Pacific islander, Hispanic/Latinx, Middle eastern/ North African, Multiracial), Women or LGBTQ talent.
  • Subscription video on demand (SVOD) programming represents several identity groups e.g. Blacks, Hispanic and Asians well, helping us understand, in part, why more diverse audiences are subscribing to streaming services than the general population.
  • Representation of identity groups by genre (e.g. comedy, drama, news):
    • While women are not well represented in any single genre, the highest representation for women is in science fiction, drama, comedy and horror.
    • Women have the lowest representation in news.
    • People of color representation is at parity in music and drama, followed by science fiction and action and adventure. 
    • People of color have least relative representation in news.
    • News does prominently feature LGBTQ talent on-screen.
    • Reality and horror programming also prominently feature LGBTQ talent.

All audiences, regardless of how they identify, like to see diversity in the content they view on TV. Programmes that represent multiple identity groups evenly yield higher overall audience ratings for all viewers when compared to shows that have a significant over or under representation of any one identity group. 

Quality of representation matters too. The themes and narratives depicted on-screen can contribute to identity formation and social perceptions. As the industry seeks to improve diversity on-screen, content creators and publishers should consider the context in which women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ talent are presented. Equally important is investing in marketing those diverse programs so that they are watched.

  • Women insights
    • Comprise 52% of the U.S. population; show up on screen only 38% of the time
    • Women 50+ years old
      • 60% less likely to see themselves in programming than in the general population, and 2x the representation of men 50+
      • Women 50+ comprise 20% of the population and 20% of all TV viewers, but have a SOS of less than 8%
      • Men 50+ years old are 17% of the total population and have SOS of 14%
  • LGBTQ+ insights
    • 1 out of 4 top performing programs across cable, broadcast and streaming have relative representation of LGBTQ+ cast members
    • Total SOS for LGBTQ was 7%. LGBTQ people are 4.5% of the population[2] so across all platforms we see fair representation
    • The highest level of representation is on SVOD (8% SOS), followed by cable (7%) then broadcast (5%).

Aligning representative casting and content themes is an area of opportunity. In the programming where identity groups see themselves represented at parity, these are the themes that are most present:

  • Latinas: dysfunction, emotional, suspenseful, melodramatic, police stations
  • Black women: emotional, personal relationships, sons, investigation, rivalry
  • Black men: investigation, thrilling, streets, pursuit, teamwork, discovery
  • East Asians: challenge, courage and bravery, justice, sons, discovery
  • South/Southeast Asian males: thrilling, awakening, offices, courtrooms
  • White women: friendship, family, love, husbands, daughters

Nielsen’s findings aim to show media owners the degree to which their programming is inclusive, coupled with the diversity of the audience they draw. Additionally, brands and agencies will now be able to measure their advertising investment and alignment to inclusive content. The identity groups measured included: Female, Male & Expansive Gender Identities, Black/African American, Hispanic, Asian & Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern/North African, Multiracial, White, Native American/Native Alaskan, and Sexual Orientation. The data, which was both intersectional and granular, enables Nielsen to look at specific identity subsegments like Afro-Latino or Southeast Asian.

“At Nielsen, we believe that the audience is everything and that inclusion is a prerequisite of a healthy media ecosystem, ensuring all communities and individuals are heard and seen,” stated Tina Wilson, Nielsen EVP, Media Analytics and Marketing Outcomes. “The call for inclusive programming that breaks traditional stereotypes and gives a voice to underrepresented groups has never been louder.”

“This work underscores the essential importance of on-screen representation in an increasingly diverse audience landscape,” said Sandra Sims-Williams, Nielsen SVP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Not only is the business case for inclusion made but it also provides practical recommendations on how media companies can address inclusion gaps. This is a must-read for any media professional who wants to be part of the change that today’s television viewers demand.”