Last Thursday, February 25, Grammy-Award winning gospel artist Erica Campbell and Nielsen rating executive Cheryl Pearson-McNeil gathered center court in the Baldwin-Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall to discuss diversity in television and music amongst an audience of fans and social advocates. The diversity panel was moderated by Angela Jollivette, host for the Grammy Pro Music Series #Buzzin.
Jollivette started the conversation by addressing how African Americans are portrayed on reality television and the subsequent impact on our communities. Campbell says that “people can only be responsible for living in their truth, whatever that truth is” but while trying to effect change in our lives, we have to proactively evaluate what we consume.
“When we as a people complain about what we see, we have to take full responsibility for what it is we watch on a regular basis,” Campbell stated.
McNeil, Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement for the Nielsen rating company, says it’s extremely important for African Americans to recognize our purchasing power.
“African Americans, we spend about $1.3 trillion dollars every single year, $1.3 trillion of buying power. We watch 40% more television than any other group of people,” she said. McNeil also says that African Americans tend to “own more televisions in our households” then there are people, often averaging four televisions per home.
As a research company located in more than 100 countries that measures what consumers watch on television, listen to on the radio and purchase at big box, grocery and convenience stores, McNeil says that Nielsen plays a large role in identifying social trends amongst African Americans.
Campbell says that TV is still fairly one-dimensional when it comes to the portrayal of blacks on television. “I remember when the Cosby show was on TV, and a lot of people said that it was unrealistic to have a father who was a doctor, a mother who was a lawyer, and respectable children, but it wasn’t and we know because the show stayed on forever,” she said. “Life mimics art, and so when we have shows like that, it triggers the possibilities for young children and young people in our world,” Campbell continued.
Campbell also says that African Americans “don’t realize the power that we have” and should “engage and be apart of the world we live in” when it comes to voicing our opinions to decision makers about what we like and don’t like. Campbell says that whether on social media, or writing a letter of praise or dissatisfaction to a company is a part of the inclusion process so that others recognize just how valuable African American voices are.
“African Americans tweet about 13% more than any other demographic group,” McNeil stated. “You can impact change with your thoughts,” she continued, referencing how Nielsen now measures what demographic audiences tweet about while they’re watching television programs.
McNeil also informed the audience just how advertisers capitalize off of television shows via commercials, which is why the same types of shows are often duplicated.
“Television is about selling products, and when the ratings are higher, the stations is able to charge higher rates for those ads that you see,” she said.
Campbell says it’s the same in the music industry, and that both artists and consumers must be careful about the image and messages they portray. “They don’t care why you buy it, they just know you buy it, they don’t care if you repost it to laugh at it, they just know you reposted it, and so there becomes value in your opinion,”
According to a study by UCLA on diversity in entertainment, African Americans gross the most money in film in television, but there still remains a gap when placing funds behind African American movies in Hollywood.
“You’re literally leaving money on the table,” McNeil stated. With regard to the lack of diversity on the Oscars award show, McNeil says that when African Americans are nominated, “black viewers tune in in high numbers”, but “turn off the screen when we don’t have a reflection on the set.”
In terms of progress in the media industry, McNeil believes that in the last two seasons of television, there has been more of a “multi-dimensional, cross representation” of African Americans across media platforms, showing a range of African American characters. Campbell also said that she appreciates portrayals of successful black women like Taraji P. Henson and Gabrielle Union on TV to give her eldest daughter a sense of how to be black and beautiful and appreciate the skin she’s in. “I have to make sure that I have some tools that can help reinforce what beauty is for her,” Campbell said.
Overall, both McNeil and Campbell intend to continue using their platforms to influence diversity in music and television in the United States and abroad.