Last updated: Inclusion and other fairytales: Racial inequity in media and content

Inclusion and other fairytales: Racial inequity in media and content


Are today’s media and entertainment consumers actually entertained? It’s a valid question, with film, book, and video game sales stagnant or slumping in recent years, even with sequels and remakes of popular stories taking center stage.

The pandemic’s social and economic disruption may bear some of the blame, but most of today’s narratives on screens and in novels are the same ones that viewers and readers have encountered over and over again – with the same themes and perspectives.

Changing up the stories – making them more diverse and inclusive – has the potential to grow revenue for studios and publishers by engaging wider audiences and earning their loyalty.

The diversity gap in media and entertainment

While movie sequels and remakes are perhaps the most obvious examples of a narrow range of stories, the lack of diversity is a problem in publishing, too.

A 2020 New York Times analysis of books from major publishers from 1950 through 2018 explores how problematic and widespread this issue remains.

And in video games, 61% of playable characters are male, and nearly twice as many games with multiple playable characters have a gender imbalance in favor of male character options.

As America becomes more diverse and market demographics shift, this gap will continue to grow until the entertainment industry addresses it. Without actionable strategies that focus on the lack of diversity, film, publishing, and gaming companies will continue failing when it comes to reaching a wider audience – which may not only diminish sales, but could also tarnish their brand.

Diverse audiences crave relatable stories

It should come as no surprise that people, particularly young, impressionable children, want to see themselves and their communities represented in the content they consume.

When films include diverse characters and stories, they outperform less inclusive productions. In 2020, films with casts that were from 41% to 50% minority enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts, while films with casts that were less than 11% minority were the poorest performers.

McKinsey estimates that the film and TV industry is leaving $10 billion in revenue on the table due to “persistent racial inequities.”

Diversity is good for business, and it has a positive societal impact: A summary of the research on the effects of diversity in media on children and young people noted that “identifying with popular characters with the same identities in mainstream media leads to higher self-esteem,” which can “set the stage for a more positive world.”

Setting the stage for inclusive content creation

Producing content that is truly diverse and inclusive requires a top-down commitment to change and an understanding of audience and employee demographics. At the leadership level, adjusting your organization’s content creation strategy can be a challenge because of entrenched habits, comfort levels, and risk aversion. However, the ability to grow revenue and build a larger audience over the long term can be powerful motivators for change.

Productivity can be another motivator. When employees feel like they are part of something larger than themselves and are passionate about having an impact, their productivity increases. That’s especially true now, as Gartner found that 56% of employees surveyed in late 2021 said the pandemic “made them want to contribute more to society.”

Leaders need to commit to diversifying the pipeline for stories as well as internal talent. The hiring process can take time, but it’s critical for reducing the implicit organizational bias that develops when one point of view is overrepresented in a group.

By broadening the decision makers and content creators to include representatives across all subsets of the populace, companies can increase their acquisition, creation, and distribution opportunities.

Create smarter: How data can drive digital change

Data analytics and digital solutions can help to jumpstart the creation of inclusive content. Pinpointing the interests of a wider audience can help illuminate the types of content that will appeal to them.

The right data can identify new potential audiences not only in terms of gender, orientation, and ethnicity but also education level, economic background, abilities, and interests.

Identifying and utilizing data sources beyond the company’s back catalog is also essential. Potential data sources include the U.S. Census Bureau, nonprofit organizations that provide wide-ranging datasets, and company-run research and analytics such as net promoter score surveys and focus groups.

And leveraging AI, robust data analytics tools with data lakes to more smartly combine, assess, and analyze the vast amount of data available from a variety of data sources can help companies better assess what consumers want and identify those wider untapped markets.

Content diversification for long-term growth and revenue

Top-down commitment, talent pipeline diversification, data analytics, and digital solutions can help companies create inclusive content.

There should also be ongoing processes that adapt to evolving demographic trends. These aren’t just investments for the near term, but a way to future-proof content and better project what the broader markets want.

It also enables content creators and distributors to more wisely identify the potential audiences while including those audiences who are currently ignored or significantly underrepresented.

Equality for all:
Go from messaging about inclusion to making it a reality.

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