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Measurement firms and agencies are trying to tie representation to performance outcomes.

February 22, 2023 | By Kelsey Sutton

Considering minorities represent nearly 40% of the US population, many advertisers aren’t just interested in making sure their ads are representative of the population—they also want to make sure their ads are running against programming that is also reflective of increasingly diverse audiences.

“If you are a big brand, and you’re placing your creative advertising within content, you want to make sure that that content also speaks to your brand’s values,” Stacie de Armas, Nielsen’s SVP, DEI, diverse insights, intelligence, and initiatives, said. “It’s important in a way that it wasn’t before.

But this can sometimes be easier said than done. That means agencies, entertainment companies, and measurement firms are developing new ways to understand how onscreen diversity correlates with metrics like bingeability and relevancy.

Those metrics, they say, are essential to highlight how better representation affects decisions—and help continue to make the business case for diverse media, especially amid concerns about losing ground in onscreen and offscreen diversity.

“In order for us to really foster and grow this ecosystem, which we all want, we have to start focusing on measurement,” Michael Roca, managing director of DE&I investment at Omnicom Media Group, said.

Make it happen

The data is unequivocal: Onscreen representation is good for the TV business. Eight of the top 10 scripted shows on broadcast among viewers 18-49 and among Latinx households had at least a fifth of their cast composed of minority populations, according to October data from UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report. That figure was even higher when considering streaming: nine of the top 10 scripted streaming shows among viewers 18-49, Latinx, Asian, and other-race households had casts that were at least one-fifth minority, UCLA found.

Increasing onscreen representation through casting alone, though, is not the only way to resonate with audiences, execs say. On TV, discerning and increasingly diverse audiences will “immediately sniff out” inauthentic representation, Peter Blacker, the head of diversity, equity, and inclusion for NBCUniversal’s global ad sales team, said.  Viewers have also been found to gravitate toward shows with a diverse set of writers and directors, as well as cast, UCLA has found.

“It’s not just about being onscreen,” de Armas said. “It’s about the quality of that representation and the thematic attributes tied to that [representation].”

New yardsticks

Nielsen, which in 2021 debuted its Gracenote Inclusion Analytics to measure onscreen representation, is looking to measure the ways representation can affect business outcomes.

One key metric Nielsen is focusing on is bingeability—a key measure for streaming services looking to hook viewers onto their programming. Nielsen found that more than 71% of shows considered to be highly bingeable—determined based on the likelihood that viewers would watch additional episodes—were inclusive of at least one traditionally underrepresented racial or ethnic identity group.

Inclusive programming seems not just to keep viewers watching, but to also attract new viewers—improving streamer and network stickiness. Two shows with indigenous representation—FX’s Reservation Dogs and AMC’s Dark Winds—were particularly good at attracting new audiences who went on to watch other programming, Nielsen found: Among audiences who hadn’t watched any Hulu programming prior to watching Reservation Dogs, 23% stayed on the service to watch other content.

De Armas stressed that improvements in one area of representation may not always lead to improvements in others. While representation of Black characters onscreen increased between 2021 and 2022, Black audiences actually had lower rates of reporting that the programming they were viewing on television represented their lived experiences compared to the previous year, in which there were fewer Black characters onscreen, she explained.

Agencies like Omnicom are keenly focused on continuing to develop new ways to measure diversity efforts to help clients invested in DE&I initiatives allocate their advertising spend appropriately, Roca said. His team meets with firms like Nielsen monthly to discuss the development of new metrics that help advertisers make decisions about where to spend their ad dollars.

“There needs to be some type of KPI that we could put on a plan that says these networks, these shows, these publishers have a cultural index of [X],” Roca said. “We still have yet to crack the nut on that in terms of creating that KPI, but I think that is the north star.”

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