I was recently invited to speak on a panel at the Horowitz Research Cultural Insights Forum. At first, I felt I might just be a fish out of water; I’m a marketer and not necessarily a media type (yet). However, I soon realized that I had found my tribe—my #squad.
Throughout the afternoon, the conversation centered on terms that made my heart race, like “multicultural content,” “intersectional storytelling,” polycultural networks. There was also talk of the need for more diversity within the ranks. Some of the takeaways from this discussion included ways to best determine where content belongs, who will consume it, how to deliver it, and what it takes to make consumers want to tune in whenever, wherever, and, in many cases, on-demand.
The Demand for Multicultural Content
The conversation that took place at this forum reminded me of the WGN series Underground. The network announced that it will cancel the original, scripted show after only two seasons, according to Variety.
Some volunteered Oprah to take over the show, however, Winfrey said that even she could not afford to air this content on OWN. With a $5 million price tag, Underground required a larger budget for even OWN’s Queen Sugar. BET declined as well.
(Image: WGN America)
These niche and highly targeted programs seem to cost a bundle to make. Take, for instance, one of my favorites—which I remain in mourning over—The Get Down on Netflix. This show was also recently canceled after only one season, according to a report from realitytvworld.com.
The Challenges of Creating Multicultural Content
These shows seem to be biting the dust for the same reason: a lofty production price tag. With elaborate, choreographed musical scenes that basically functioned as mini-musicals smacked right in the middle of the show, and animated vignettes that operated as nostalgic throwbacks to Fat Albert, how sustainable could one expect a show to really be?
Yet, the demand for such multicultural content remains high. Those actors on The Get Down, for instance, portrayed characters who were Puerto Rican; they were black; they were white; some were even homosexual or queer. They represented everything and everyone. And because the show took place at the moment in America’s history when disco gave way to hip hop, the show spoke to a wide audience, developing a steady cult following.
However, production for The Get Down cost a steep $120 million. It was split into two parts, to make us feel like we got a little more than we actually did. That is a staggering cost, especially for a platform like Netflix, which does not rely on the traditional advertising models that other networks enjoy.
So, how do you make up the cost for subscription-based, commercial-free content? There’s no doubt that services like Netflix and Hulu will eventually crack this code, and when they do—watch out.
How do I know?
We Are Starving for Diverse Content
Horowitz’s SVP of Insights & Strategy Adriana Waterston moderated the panel Alternative Voices, Alternative Narratives, with Jeffrey Bowman, Jennifer Randolph, and myself.
Adriana Waterston moderates the panel “Alternative Voices, Alternative Narratives,” with Jeffrey Bowman, Jennifer Randolph, and Michelle L. Smith, during the Cultural Insights Forum in New York City. (Image: John Fuentes, Horowitz Research)
According to Waterston:
- Multicultural households are the hungriest for content. They are multicultural and intersectional, meaning they check more than one box in the diversity spectrum. They are looking for content they can relate to.
- These new mass market viewers are “content omnivores”: they use a combination of cable and streaming services, thus are corded while also being cord cutters. As such, most have to pay cable television services for the content that can’t be found on streaming services, like network and local news, in addition to also having services like Sling, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. They use these streaming services to consume the niche content that is tough to find on broadcast networks, such as highly curated storytelling that speaks to a narrowly targeted audience.
- As the most multicultural adult generation, 18% of millennials are cord cutters, and stream most of their content.
- The audience of content omnivore consumers want it all. Therefore, when it comes to successful storytelling, it is all about the narrative itself.
This hungry audience isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it will continue to grow and crave content. I myself fit squarely into this content profile—currently, I’m binge watching Dear White People and Master of None on Netflix.
Vying for Multicultural Eyeballs
There is a bit of a race to see who can fail fast, course correct, and win for these multicultural eyeballs. Some networks and streaming services are betting millions and millions per show on the prospect of reaching this overlooked viewer. Other networks and services honestly don’t know what they are missing out on, but they will need to figure it out—and fast. Those 2012 babies in Gen Z that are no longer in the minority are here—mine is hooked on the American Girl movies on Amazon and Netflix.
Diversity drives pop culture. I say that “black is the new black”—and so is brown. It explains the mass market appeal of shows like Empire and Blackish, and why Zee Mundo has been able to share Spanish-language Bollywood movies to great success. That’s intersectionality at its best.
My Prediction Going Forward
I think that Underground will eventually get picked back up. If so, based on research, it will most likely be by an over-the-top service like Hulu—if they are smart, and have the cash and model to support and sustain it. If and when that happens, I will look forward to adding Underground to my binge-watching list.