An analysis of representation across top TV shows of 2023, Samba TV found a “dramatic” underrepresentation of some demographics, mainly Hispanic and Asian audiences, as well as an ad market that is also underserving these viewers, according to the measurement firm’s State of Diversity on TV report.
The analysis encompassed programs released on streaming and traditional linear television, based on the top 25 highest-reaching direct-to-streaming and top 25 highest-reaching linear TV premiere episodes released between January and May. Insights into representation were sourced from the cast composition of top-billed actors and actresses throughout each program.
“The data shows that greater on-screen representation will tend to increase viewership overall and among diverse populations,” Samba TV CEO Ashwin Navin said in a statement. “Audiences are deeply connected to what they watch on TV. Although we live in the golden age of content, diversity on-screen still does not adequately represent the population in all its identities.”
The report found that more than half people say that they are more likely to watch TV where they see themselves represented.
Within the top 50 TV shows, 42% of top-billed actors were Hispanic, Black, Asian, or another ethnicity such as mixed, while 58% were white.
The report’s findings indicated a positive correlation of 43% among households with black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed race, or another non-white ethnicity watching programs with higher percentages of non-white stars, indicating that cast diversity is a selling point among diverse households.
Representation is a deciding factor when audiences choose what to watch on TV. Black households saw the strongest correlation with watching shows with black leads, with a positive correlation of 67% among black households watching programs with a higher percentage of black leads.
Despite making up almost 20% of the U.S., Hispanic actors are underrepresented on TV, according to Samba. Across both linear and streaming, only 10% of lead actors were Hispanic, despite Hispanic people comprising 18% of the U.S. census.
In fact, none of the top 50 shows featured a majority Hispanic cast, compared to multiple shows featuring majority white, black and Asian leads. Less than half of the top 50 programs featured Hispanic or Asian leads.
With 80% of Hispanic people saying diverse content is important when choosing what to watch, content creators and advertisers would benefit from diversifying casts to include Hispanic representation.
Meanwhile, more than 25% of the lead actors among the top linear shows was black, and that representation paid off for those shows from a viewership standpoint. Multiple shows with a majority black leading cast over-indexed in the triple digits based on Black household viewership, including “BMF,” “Snowfall” and “Power Book II: Ghost”.
The vast majority (90%) of black audiences say that having diverse representation is important to them when choosing what content to watch.
Samba found that streamers, led by Netflix are leaning into diverse representation in their content. Notably, the most diverse streaming shows were all Netflix originals.