Leading TV Roles for Non-White Actors Down 7% From 2023

Samba TV released its second annual State of Diversity on TV report, which delves into the current state of representation on screen — and what they found was rather disappointing for those hoping to see increased diversity.

“Within the top 50 TV shows, 39% of top-billed actors were Hispanic, Black, Asian, or another ethnicity such as mixed or Native, while 61% were white. This marked a 7% decrease in representation of diverse groups year-over year,” the report stated.

Americans who identify with an ethnicity other than white is now 41% and by 2060, more than half of the country is projected to be a part of this group. The data shows a lot of work remaining before stories accurately reflect the diversity of the audience.

Some key topics discussed in the report include diversity and representation on TV, advertisement viewership by ethnicity and the correlation between representative content and viewership.

One of the first takeaways was the consistent decline in non-white leads. The gap is particularly stark for Hispanic actors, who despite making up 19% of the U.S. population, only account for 6% of top-billed cast members. This is a 40% decline from last year’s data.

The numbers carry over to whether advertising reaches an audience. The data showed large disparities in advertising reach for Hispanic, Black and Asian audiences. Hispanic audiences were again on the lowest end, seeing just 15% of advertising impressions.

These trends are reflected in both linear and streaming, which both consistently underrepresent Hispanic actors. Linear TV is particularly weak in this area, with just 3% of its leads being Hispanic.

“Black leads are prominent on linear (24%) and Asian leads on streaming shows like Hulu and FX’s ‘Shogun’ and Max’s ‘The Sympathizer’ (13%).”

Samba TV posed the question, “does representative content drive diverse viewership?” Its short answer is yes. There is a positive correlation of 39% among households with Black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed race or another non-white ethnicity watching programs with those shows’ percentages of non-white stars. Producing projects with diverse casts remains important for advertisers and increasing viewership numbers, according to Samba, with the belief that producing projects with more non-white cast members will draw more attention.

Hit shows like Netflix’s Griselda,” starring Sofia Vergara, is one of the prime examples of the how on-screen representation translates to audience, with over 50% of viewers being Hispanic.

On a more positive note, Netflix and ABC’s top three shows this past year featured over 50% non-white leading cast members. Unfortunately, they were the only major platforms to do so. NBC and Apple TV+ tied for last place with just 22% of its leads being diverse.

The viewership data used for the report was gathered from tens of millions of opted-in smart TVs using Samba’s Automatic Content Recognition technology. The analysis is based on the top 25 highest-reaching direct-streaming and top 25 highest-reaching linear TV premiere episodes released between Jan. 1 and May 1, 2024.

Read the full report right here.

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