Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Power Watching
By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil
Published October 31, 2011

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil

Don’t you just love this time of year? The crispness of the air. Trees showing off their gorgeous fall colors. Our kids settling (hope springs eternal) into the still kinda’ new school year. And, the deluge of new Fall TV shows still rolling out. So little time and so many guilty TV viewing pleasures. Although you know by now that Nielsen is the leading global research company that measures what consumers buy, you also know we do a great job at measuring what consumers watch! And there’s no better time of year to talk about television viewing than Fall.


Even though in this digital age we consume our media content in many ways, via online streaming on our computers, our smartphones and tablets, according to Nielsen data, old school television still rules amidst all the new kids on the video consumption block. Live primetime viewership in this country is still strong with nearly 200 million viewers. Of course, when we say “watching television” these days, those programming options have grown to include cable, satellite, on-demand or digital video recording (DVR) viewing.

I try to keep you abreast of Blacks’ habits and purchasing choices, as compared to the general population. The State of the African-American Consumer Report, a groundbreaking, first-of-its kind study developed by Nielsen in collaboration with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), has an entire in-depth section that analyzes television and movie watching behavior. According to the report, African-Americans watch 40% more television than any other demographic group in the country, averaging seven hours and 12 minutes each day and about 213 hours per month. The average African-American household also owns four or more televisions (great for going room to room and not missing a beat of viewing, although I personally tend to stay cemented to my couch and only watch one of the four TV’s in the house).

As a group, Blacks tend to prefer premium cable channel programming, drama, live or reality television program and sporting events. Hands down, the television event that attracted the most African-American viewers, so far, in 2011 was Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. A record 12.5 million of us tuned in to watch making it the most watched Super Bowl ever. I was surprised by this number because pop culture has us believing that basketball is the sport we most love, but in comparison, seven million viewers watched the NBA Game 6 Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Remove sporting events from the equation, and it’s the Grammy Awards which took top honors – attracting four million African-American viewers. The BET Awards followed with 3.9 million viewers. And, BET proved to be a favorite landing spot when it brought back The Game and 3.1 million of us had our eyes glued to the screen for its season premier (Why can’t Derwin and Melanie get it together, sigh, he knew that baby wasn’t his. Or I forget now…was it?!).

What’s the common denominator for these favorite shows of ours? Diversity. The more diversity there is in the programming offered, the more likely we are to tune in.

In analyzing our viewing habits, the report also shows that African-Americans make up 11% of the movie-going population, an industry that generates $12 billion in annual revenue. Interestingly, the heaviest attendees are divided into two different age groups: those 12-17 and 45-54. Study results reveal that these are the same folks who are most likely to consume/watch movies at home on TV and all of the alternate formats like streaming, downloading and pay-per-view. As with our TV shows, African-Americans prefer comedies and action adventures, evident in the Top 5 African American-Themed Movies To Date (with predominantly African American casts).

“The Pursuit of Happyness” (Gross: $162.6 million)


“Bad Boys II” (Gross: $138.4 million)

“The Nutty Professor” (Gross: $128.8 million)

“Coming to America” (Gross: $128.1 million)

“Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” (Gross: $123.3 million)

Anybody notice Eddie Murphy stars in three out of the five? Now that he’s going to host the 2012 Oscars, perhaps we’ll see an upswing in the number of African-American viewers who tune in. By now, you know my old refrain, so say it with me – “Knowledge is power.” What we watch is important to both the marketers who want to reach and interact with our community and the producers who want us as viewers. Ratings and movie ticket sales equal dollars. Dollars equal power. Download your own personal copy of report by going to or look for it as an insert in your local Black newspaper.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to


Categories: Op-Ed

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