TV Programs with Black Stars, Storylines Drawing Diverse Eyes, Nielsen Reports

TV Programs with Black Stars, Storylines Drawing Diverse Eyes, Nielsen Reports

“Storylines with a strong black character or identity are crossing cultural boundaries to grab diverse audiences and start conversations.”

While this isn’t the first time that a TV program with a black lead has drawn non-black audiences — think of “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Cosby Show” — what’s unusual is the sheer number of such programs that are carrying cross-cultural appeal.

“Black-ish,” “Secrets and Lies,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Pitch,” “Rosewood,” “Insecure” and “Atlanta” all average more than 50% non-black viewership. Specifically:

  • With 89% non-black viewership, “This Is Us,” NBC’s Golden Globe–nominated ensemble dramedy, includes Sterling K. Brown as a black businessman raised by white parents and tackles topics such as drug addiction, racism, homosexuality, alcoholism, adoption, obesity and cancer.
  • ABC’s hit sitcom “Black-ish” follows a father and husband (Anthony Anderson) who’s trying to create a sense of black cultural identity for his affluent family of six and has 79% non-black viewership. Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays his wife, won the best actress in a comedy series Golden Globe for her role.
  • Three-fourths of the viewership for “Secrets and Lies,” the ABC crime drama that revolves around the biracial heir (Michael Ealy) to a Charlotte, N.C., equity firm and the murder of his wife, are non-black.
  • ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” is the Shonda Rhimes hit drama starring Academy Award–winner Viola Davis as a criminal defense professor who gets entangled in a murder plot. Sixty-nine percent of the show’s viewership is non-black.
  • Sixty-eight percent* of viewership for ABC’s “Scandal,” another “Shondaland” thriller featuring Kerry Washington as a former media consultant to the president, is non-black.
  • With 63% non-black viewers, Fox’s “Pitch” is a dramedy about the first woman, a black woman, to play baseball in the Major Leagues.
  • “Insecure” is the HBO original comedy series co-created by Golden Globe–nominated Issa Rae. Inspired by Rae’s popular web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” viewership is 61% non-black.
  • Half the viewership for newcomer “Atlanta” is non-black. The show, a Golden Globe–winning comedy-drama on FX created by and starring Donald Glover, centers on two black cousins navigating the Atlanta rap scene.

“Much of the American narrative lately has focused on a growing cultural divide. But Nielsen’s data on television programming show something different,” says Andrew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Communications and Multicultural Marketing, at Nielsen. “Storylines with a strong black character or identity are crossing cultural boundaries to grab diverse audiences and start conversations. That insight is important for culture and content creators, as well as manufacturers and retailers looking to create engaging, high-impact advertising campaigns.”

Some of these programs wade into today’s real-world tensions. Episodes of “Black-ish” have included a discussion on police brutality and the presidential election, provoking debate on social media.

One of the most widely acclaimed programs of recent seasons, Fox’s “Empire,” stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as ex-spouses grappling over the future of a multimillion-dollar hip-hop company. “Empire” commands a majority black audience, but still draws a sizable non-black viewership of nearly 40% on average each week.

It’s also noteworthy how a predominantly black audience—63% for Empire—can propel a show to Emmy-nominated, award-winning mainstream success. Henson took home a best actress Golden Globe last year for her portrayal of Cookie, and Cover Girl recently announced a makeup collection inspired by the hit show. These accolades offer further evidence of a cultural recalibration in which black voices increasingly are heard. That coincides with rising affluence and education levels, illuminated in the recently released report, “Young, Connected and Black: African-American Millennials Are Driving Social Change and Leading Digital Advancement.”

The 2016 Diverse Intelligence Series Report delves into the spending and viewing habits of African-Americans overall and quantifies their greater appetite for television content as one driver of the dramatic increase in diverse television programming. Between 2011 and 2015, broadcast network TV ad spend focused on black audiences (defined as ad dollars placed on programming with greater than 50% black viewers) increased by 255%.

About Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Series
In 2011, Nielsen launched the Diverse Intelligence Series, a robust portfolio of comprehensive reports that focus solely on diverse consumers’ unique consumption and purchasing habits. The series has become an industry resource to help brands better understand and reach ethnic customers. To learn more about Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence research series and African-American consumers, visit

About Nielsen
Nielsen Holdings is a global performance management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers watch and buy. Nielsen’s Watch segment provides media and advertising clients with Total Audience measurement services for all devices on which content — video, audio and text — is consumed. The Buy segment offers consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers the industry’s only global view of retail performance measurement. By integrating information from its Watch and Buy segments and other data sources, Nielsen also provides its clients with analytics that help improve performance. Nielsen, an S&P 500 company, has operations in over 100 countries, covering more than 90% of the world’s population. For more information, visit

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About Bigg UU

Washed rapper turned music critic who will love the Hip Hop culture forever, Podcaster, couch coach of the Dallas Cowboys and avid Twitter user.

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