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African Americans want better TV shows. Or do they?

Nearly all African Americans polled – 97 percent – say they are unhappy with the African-American TV programs currently on air.

by Freddie Allen
NNPA News Service

WASHINGTON – Nearly all African Americans polled – 97 percent – say they are unhappy with the African-American TV programs currently on air. Seventy-five percent say they want more documentaries, 71 percent prefer more history, 68 percent desire to see more independent films and 59 percent would like to see more news, according to a new study conducted by Target Market News, a Chicago-based organization that tracks African-American consumer market trends.

But what African Americans say they want and what they’re watching are two different things.

According to Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and insights into what consumers watch and buy, African Americans watch television seven hours, 12 minutes per day, 40 percent more than whites (five hours and two minutes per day). And they’re not watching “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel or “Frontline” on PBS.

After sporting events, which received high viewership among African Americans and whites, sitcoms and music awards shows dominated the list of top 10 cable programs African Americans watched between Sept. 19, 2011 and Jan. 29, 2012.

Based on data collected by Nielsen, Tyler Perry’s “For Better or Worse” (TBS) topped the list with nearly 2.5 million viewers, followed by the “Soul Train Awards” on BET (2.4 million), and “The Game” also on BET (2.1 million).

“The Soul Train Awards Pre-show” pulled in slightly more than 2 million viewers and “The BET Hip Hop Awards” attracted 1.5 million. Noticeably absent were the documentaries and history programs that, according to the Target Market News poll, African Americans say they prefer.

Meanwhile, whites were plugged into national politics over that period, with three out of five of the top viewed cable programs (excluding sporting events) going to the GOP presidential debates. Nearly 9.7 million viewers watched the Republican presidential debate and analysis hosted by the FOX News Channel. “Rizzoli & Isles” (TNT) drew 9 million white viewers, good enough for second place, followed by “Royal Pains” (USA) with more than 4.6 million. CNN hosted the GOP debates in Florida (4.6 million) and in Arizona (4.6 million) that were also highly viewed among the white cable audience.

The NFL danced in the end zone of broadcast TV all season, producing games that captured the highest number of viewers in the top 10 ranked shows between Sept. 19, 2011 and Jan. 29, 2012 among African Americans and whites on CBS, FOX, and NBC. It’s been 10 seasons since Kelly Clarkson captured the top prize on “American Idol” (ABC) and the show still remains wildly popular with African Americans and whites.

While episodes of “NCIS” (CBS), “Modern Family” (ABC), and “The Big Bang Theory” pulled high viewership in the white broadcast TV audience, African Americans tuned into “X-Factor,” another singing competition similar to “Idol.”

Some industry leaders are not surprised.

“Music has always been apart of our DNA,” said Bounce TV President Ryan Glover, noting that African Americans gravitate to shows such as “Idol,” “Dancing With The Stars,” and the “X-Factor.” He explained, “Music resonates with the black audience, just like comedy as a genre and movies”.

Bounce TV, launched last September as a digital broadcast network created primarily for African Americans, features movies, live HBCU sporting events, and reruns of groundbreaking shows such as “Soul Train” and “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” The network’s first original series, “Family Time,” a sitcom about a working-class black family that wins the lottery and moves up to the middle class, is set to launch June 18.

BET’s “The Game,” a sitcom that follows a group of star athletes that play for the fictional “San Diego Sabres” and the women in their lives, continues to be a top-rated show on cable in African-American households, with more than 1.9 million viewers the week of April 23-29. BET is the most-watched cable network and its most popular shows are of sitcoms and movies.

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) often reminded anyone who would listen that the “E” in “BET” stands for entertainment, not education.

“Scandal” on ABC, a political drama produced by Shonda Rhimes and starring Kerry Washington, both African Americans, made a big splash when it debuted in early April with more than 7 million viewers, including 1.88 million African-American viewers. “Scandal” settled into the No. 2 position among most watched broadcast TV shows in African-American households, but it’s still too early to tell if the show will last.


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