Magazine article Insight on the News

For Many Holding a Remote, Choices Are in Black and White

Magazine article Insight on the News

For Many Holding a Remote, Choices Are in Black and White

Article excerpt

American TV viewers are practicing self-segregation. A recent study confirms that blacks and whites watch different programs; not surprisingly, members of each group prefer to watch their own kind.

It's Thursday night, America. What are you watching on television? For Reginald Parker, a senior at Tuskegee University in Alabama, the answer is Fox's lineup of Martin, Living Single and New York Undercover. For Jay Nieburh, an Alexandria, Va., sales representative, NBC carries the evening with Mad About You, Seinfeld, Friends and ER. Their preferences are typical of millions of Americans. Parker, who is black, and Nieburh, who is white, favor shows featuring characters of their own race.

BBDO, a New York advertising agency, recently detailed a five-year trend of viewing patterns in the 10th annual report on black television viewing. The report compares the prime-time viewing preferences of black households to total U.S. households based upon an analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

The gulf between viewing habits of blacks and whites is striking. Whites prefer Seinfeld, Home Improvement and Grace Under Fire, also the top three shows watched in total U.S. households. None of the three, however, appears on the top-20 list of most-watched shows in black households. Black viewers' favor Martin, Living Single and New York Undercover. Not one of those shows ranks in the top 50 most-watched programs in total U.S. households, nor did any crack the top 100 of shows most watched in white households. Only two programs make the top-20 lists of both blacks and whites: ABC's Monday Night Football and NBC's Monday Night Movie.

A decade ago, there were 15 shows common to the top-20 lists of black and white viewers, says Doug Alligood, BBDO's senior vice president of special markets and the report's author. "But as time went on, more program options and more variety in terms of ethnic appearances on television became available, [leading to] much more disparity between black and white viewing." Tina Pieraccini, a professor of communication studies at the State University of New York at Oswego, believes black viewers gravitate to shows featuring other blacks because "there have not been enough minority role models. …

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