Television viewers are overwhelmingly voicing their desire for shows with diverse and strong characters. TV Time conducted this study to better understand how television audiences are responding to casting decisions across race, gender and sexual orientation. Gone are the days when our favorite characters were predominantly white, straight and male. A supercharged social consciousness is driving people to want to see characters on television who resemble themselves. Television is answering that call to action and fans are responding in overwhelming favor.
TV Time is uniquely poised with volumes of fan data from people who have watched a television program and voted on their favorite characters in the TV Time app. For this global study, TV Time analyzed the top 100 favorite characters from 2015-2017, chosen by its community of 12 million registered app users. In an effort to understand how fans are reacting to diversity characters, TV Time tabulated 130 million character votes over the last three years. Acknowledging that there are several ways to segment the US population (and television characters) into diversity groups, this study focused on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Overall, diversity among favorite characters remains relatively fl at over the past three years. However, some diversity groups are experiencing meaningful growth and appear to be leading the cultural movement toward embracing fundamental changes in the way we experience television.
CHARACTERS OF COLOR
Overall, characters of color saw a 20% increase, jumping from 15% of the overall favorite characters in 2015, to 18% of the favorite character vote in 2017. There is a TV reboot trend happening in which programs are returning to the small screen with a modern theme of inclusion and acceptance. Shows like One Day at a Time that originally aired with an all-white 1970’s cast have returned featuring a majority Latino cast. Additionally, many of the female characters of color favored by TV Time users are in shows created by Shonda Rhimes. The movement of her Shondaland empire from ABC to Netflix will likely lead to many new shows and several new fan favorites to watch out for.
Shondaland characters Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza), Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King) and Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) were among the favorite female characters in 2015-2017.
While there is an increase in the number of actors that are chosen as favorites who are persons of color, the numbers are still small. In 2017, there were 18 characters of color in the top 100. But there was only one character of color in the top 10 for 2017 and 2016 and none in 2015.
MORE LGBTQ CHARACTERS ARE ON TV
The largest jump of any single diversity category measured in this study was in characters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning. From 2015 to 2017 we saw a 57% increase in LGBTQ favorite character votes. According to TV Time’s most recent rankings, LGBTQ characters make up 11% of the top 100 characters in 2017. While a global estimate of LGBTQ representation is difficult to estimate, a recent GLAAD study shows 4.8% of people in the United States identify as LGBTQ. In this era of peak TV and diverse viewership, content creators will continue to focus on concepts and characters that appeal to a wide range of audiences.
FAVORITE FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE IN DECLINE
The data says that not all on screen diversity is being embraced equally. While diversity growth among characters of color and LGBTQ characters has been strong, favorite female characters has experienced a decline. The number of female characters in the top 100 has fallen over the past two years. From 2016 to 2017 we saw a drop in favorite female characters of 11.2%. There is an even sharper drop if you narrow the focus to just the top 25 favorite characters. Among the top 25 favorite characters in 2017, only 6 were women. That is a 40% drop over 2015 when 10 of the top 25 favorite characters were women. While there has been a tremendous amount of focus in Hollywood around women, we continue to see an under representation of on-screen female characters. Octavia Blake from The 100 (Marie Avgeropoulos) was the only female to make the top 10 of TV Time’s 2017 most-loved characters.
WHEN WILL TV CASTING BEGIN TO ALIGN WITH POPULATION DIVERSITY?
While TV is moving in the right direction, TV show casting does not yet reflect the diversity of the American population, a population in which 50.8% of the people are female, 23.1% are people of color and 4.8% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning. TV show diversity also does not yet fully reflect the political and social upheaval that is taking place around women, people of color and gender identities at the moment. Character diversity alone may not guarantee viewers – or awards recognition. But for those production companies who are in the midst of development and casting and wish to better understand how viewers respond to and engage with characters and the genres in which they appear, the data over time indicates that viewers want more diversity in their shows and are willing to recognize those characters for it.
ABOUT THE DATA
TV Time is the world’s largest TV tracking app. TV Time analyzed 130 million votes from their community of global users to determine the top 100 favorite characters from 2015-2017. TV Time users consist mainly of the Millennial and Gen Y generations, ages 18-34, globally (with the three largest markets being Europe, Latin America and North America). Users self-report their favorite characters on the TV Time app.
Voting on characters occurs when a TV Time user watches an episode and tracks it in the app. The system prompts the user to select an emotion about that episode and a favorite character. Only one character per episode may be selected and from there TV Time tabulates the data.
ABOUT TV TIME
The TV Time app provides fans with a platform to extend their TV viewing experience. Their core, global audience of 18 to 34-year-old TV show superfans use the app to discover and track their favorite shows and connect with others. TV Time has tracked more than 9 billion episodes across some 60,000 shows in the United States and other countries. For more information about TV Time’s 130MM TV Time Fans Cast Their Vote on the State of Diversity on Television, contact us here and follow TV Time at Twitter/Snapchat: @tvshowtime, Facebook/Instagram: @tvtimeapp
Click here to download our study.