Time To Diversify The Picture


There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the lack of multicultural programming on both cable and broadcast TV. And the upcoming broadcast season isn’t likely to quell the critics’ fervor.

While the Big Four are offering several shows starring actors of color as best buddies of white lead characters, no new shows featuring predominately multicultural casts are on the docket for the 2012-13 season.

Cable fares a bit better, with new shows like TV One’s comedy series The Ricky Smiley Show, BET’s Gabrielle Union-starrer Being Mary Jane and TBS’s Asian-themed comedy Sullivan & Son featuring actors of color in lead roles and culturally diverse casts.

But critics have said that TV overall needs to do more to ensure on-screen images adequately reflect the diversity of its viewers.

Crucially, viewers are disenchanted with the state of diverse content on TV.

According to the Horowitz Associates State of Cable and Digital Media 2012 Multicultural Edition survey, Asians are among the least satisfied with multicultural representation, with 31% surveyed registering an unfavorable rating for quantity and 27% for quality, compared to favorable ratings of 24% and 22%, respectively.

Among African-Americans, only 36% felt television was delivering quality multicultural content. That number is even lower for English-speaking Hispanics: Just 29% registered a favorable rating for quality, according to Horowitz.

The most satisfied group was Spanish dominant Hispanics. More than half of them were positive about the amount of multicultural programming on television, while 46% were satisfied with content quality. Spanish-language TV comprises 69% of Spanish-speaking Hispanics’ viewing, Horowitz found, and there are a bevy of Spanish-language networks on TV for that audience to enjoy.

Bottom line: Multicultural viewers — who already overindex in cable subscriptions, relative to the population — would most likely find even more value in their service, if more content were available that realistically represented their cultures.

In a very competitive home-entertainment environment, that’s a business argument that can’t be ignored.