Is Television Targeting Black Women?

May 13, 2014  |  


Are black women television’s next targeted demographic?

Film critic, Tambay Obenson, seems to think so. Over at Shadow & Act, he writes that now that Hollywood has discovered blacks are a viable market segment, combined with an increased collective African American buying power of  around $1.5 trillion annually, the black woman’s narrative and other programs that are attractive to the sisters, are rapidly becoming a ratings goldmine for major and cable television networks.

More specifically:

All that said, the last 12 to 24 months in TV history have certainly seen more of an emphasis by the networks on content targeted at black women audiences in that coveted 25-54 ratings age range, as that audience has delivered, and continues to deliver solid (and in some cases record) ratings for the networks that have shown, and continue to show interest in attracting them. And I think it’s only a matter of time, before other networks who are still seemingly ignoring that audience, jump on the bandwagon, especially if ratings (and, in essence, advertising dollars, and thus their bottomline) are of importance to them.

So might a time soon come when TV (broadcast and cable) lineups see every major network’s programming schedule include at least one dramatic or comedy series, centered primarily around the lives of black women, or feature black women in meaty and vital starring roles?”

The evidence suggests that those who currently don’t, might be foolish not to reconsider.


Among the evidence Obenson cites is “Scandal,” which as we all know is not only a ratings bonanza, but apparently a social media one as well, delivering over 700k tweets during its premier episode alone. Likewise, there’s the OWN network, which has created a number of black women-centered programming including “Tyler Perry’s The Haves & The Have Nots.” And then there is the rating juggernaut VH1, with a line up that includes “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta,” “T.I. & Tiny’s The Family Hustle,” “Marrying The Game,” “Hit The Floor,” and “Basketball Wives,” which have strong followings among black women.

The article is interesting – although I don’t agree with Obenson’s conclusions that somehow black men are being locked out of this new attention being spent by Hollywood executives. For the most part, television is filled with developed black male characters. If you read the article, as well as the comments, you will see that some of the readers went to great trouble to list those varied roles for black men.

Coincidentally, I have been noticing this same sort of emphasis as of late on the black woman narrative, particularly as it pertains to television, and I shared similar thoughts on my personal blog. In particular, one recent report from the Pittsburgh Courier about Centric TV, originally known as BET on Jazz, BET Jazz, and BET J, will to be shifting formats again to concentrate on more women-centered programming including season four of “Single Ladies.”and a collaboration with Queen Latifah‘s production company Flavor Unit Entertainment, who will be producing more shows for black female audiences. The report goes on to say:

“We are thrilled to be working once again with Flavor Unit Entertainment and Queen Latifah,” said Debra L. Lee, BET’s Chairman and CEO. “She does it all and we are happy to have her join us as a creative force as we continue to grow Centric into a premiere destination for African American women. We couldn’t be more excited about what’s ahead.”

Louis Carr, BET’s President of Broadcast and Media Sales, said the rebranding of the network is historic. “At more than 10 million strong, and in control of 20 billion dollars in buying power, the African American woman is an increasingly powerful, yet often overlooked consumer. No other network has embraced her with content designed specifically for her – until now,” he explained. “Centric is the first network to deliver the programming that celebrates, inspires and addresses her unique perspective.”

It’s clear that for at least one network, black women are actively being targeted for ratings bread and butter. However, I’m starting to believe that the new emphasis on “our stories” is part of a larger scheme in this country, to raise the profile of women in general. This includes the likes of Beyoncé and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who both have been pushing this “be anything you want to be” brand of feminism. And the GoldieBox commercial, which seeks to dispel some of the myths about science and young girls. And then there is Hilary Clinton and the popularity of the FLOTUS, whose individual popularities have provided both themselves and their husbands newfound political leverage among a core demographic of voters. (I.e. the womenfolks.) And how can we forget the wildly shared and discussed article in The Atlantic called The End of Men, which focused on the rise of women in the workplace?

Everything is pretty much girl power right now.

It’s quite possible that television is just keeping up with the changing times. While I am excited about the new prospects, particularly the rise of women-centered narratives on television and elsewhere, I am also kind of skittish about how else this will benefit us, outside of some entertaining moments on television? It’s not really empowering if the only people really being served are those,who make, control and ultimately make money off of the images, no matter how egalitarian


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