Blacks' and Whites' TV Viewing Habits

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I just found this old Freakonomics post, but it raises an interesting enough question that I thought it worth posting. It used to be that blacks and whites had very different TV viewing habits. According to recent data, these different viewing habits have begun to converge. I can't think of any good reasons why that might be. Any thoughts? Is it because the particular shows that are on now have something that appeals to both audiences when nothing before did? If so, what would that be? Or is it because something has changed in one or the other audience? If so, what would that be? The explanations offered in the comments don't seem very convincing to me.

6 Comments

It could just be that the shows listed have shifted the weight of the shows' focus. For instance, there have always been shows about cops/crime but in the past the weight was on the "heroes". So a person would watch Columbo with intent interest on how Columbo figures it out. But CSI it's not so much how Grissom figures it out but what methods they use to figure out the crime we don't know the answer to either.

There have always been dancing/performance shows but the focus has changed from talent to how cruel will the judges be to X contestant.

Ugly Betty is the only one I can'treally think up a good reason besides making the heroine the underdog. Heck, I don't even know why it was good when it was on Telemundo but my parents watched it with an eerily devoted passion. That being said, I have to check my DVR if there's a new episode that I haven't watched yet...

What would draw blacks to the new crime shows that didn't before? I see the difference, but why does that make it now appeal to blacks when it didn't before? I see this as more of a generational thing and not a race thing.

Similarly, is cruelty in judging performances going to bring in a different racial audience?

Yeah, I see what you're saying because it's not like because a show has cruelty or crime (etc) suddenly the blacks and whites will flock in and watch. But I do think that if a broad range of shows reflect what appeals to current show producers and on any given day Nielson Raters have to decide between those elements and those highlighted in previous generations then the Nielson viewers have to decide what they like based on what's on against each other.

Like Thursdays at 9 has: CSI, The OC, Scrubs, Supernatural and Grey's Anatomy all up against each other. CSI and Grey's are the only two that put weight on the How/What/Why over the Who (theme songs aside). Etc.

I love econ stuff, so I'll just throw out a couple of theories. I have no idea if these are true, but they could be tested in some way.

Theory one: The failure of "black television". Perhaps many of the show which previously and succesfully targetted black viewers have been cancelled or fail to attract viewers, thus leaving black viewers with only "white" shows to choose from.

Theory two: Increased interest among younger whites in black culture. It is plausible to me that more and more white people are interested in seeing the "black side" of things, for whatever reason. This could be measured by both the increase in interest in black actors and black culture on mainstream shows as well as an increase in white viewership in shows targetted to blacks.

Just some ideas.

I really think finding a "why" to this will probably not happen on the basis of statistical aggregates, though. If I wanted to research this I would try doing lots of interviews with tv viewers about why they like particular shows (allowing for some open ended ansers) and see how various racial groups answers compare to each other.

The reason may be, as I have seen, that a greater number of white students are accepting the hip hop culture to a wider extent. BET, may still be the hip hop domain, but go to MTV, and you will find some hip hop related things, like Pimp my Ride etc.

That may be a factor, but like the explanations given at the Freakonomics post I can't see how that would have as wide-ranging effects as this. At best, it would explain why some white people who like hip-hop would increase the popularity of some black-oriented shows a little bit. There's a lot more going on here than just that. Most of these shows are not black-oriented.

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