Since April of 2019, Nielsen has tracked television viewing of LGBT couples. I took a look at what we watch back then, just to get an idea of what we were watching and how it was different from what the rest of the TV watching world does.
As I said in April, the caveat to this slice of the pie is that Nielsen is very specific in that they are tracking same gender couples (married or partners). In general, Nielsen statistics and data reflect couples and families, not individual viewers, and this is evident when you consider they call them Nielsen Families and not viewers.
Furthermore, because they are specifically looking at same sex couples (married or not) who live in the same household, the spectrum of queer relationships is not fully represented. That is, we wouldn’t see a couple where one member is transgender listed, and we may not see asexuals in a relationship with an opposite or different cisgender partner.
Why This Matters
While there is still room to grow, this should be considered our first foot in the door of being recorded as a valid and useful metric for TV watching. We can speak, first hand, to the difficulties of getting related, useful advertisements on queer oriented sites. There simply is no queer woman centric ad resource like Google Ads. In fact, when you use Google Ads and say you want LGBT+ advertisements, you generally get ads for gay men.
Part of this is because women are seen as a less valuable resource. We, in general, make less money than our male counterparts. We’re seen as less reliable employees as we may be forced to take time off for child rearing purposes. This remains true even when both partners in a relationship are women, and have no plans for children.
Compounding that, queers in general have little visibility when it comes to how we spend our money and time. When we’re not being tracked, how can people know if television aimed at us is watched? If no one knows we’re watching, then we would again be considered high risk investments, and there’s an argument to be made against creating content for is.
Now that we are being tracked, we have data, and with data we can make predictions.
Great, What Do We Watch?
When the Nielsen results first came out, the difference between what queers watched and what other groups (heterosexual families, Hispanic families, and African American families) was minimal. In short, we all watched more or less the same shows. Everyone watched Grey’s Anatomy and everyone watched NCIS, but more African American families watched Empire.
Overall, that particular metric has not changed. As of last week, everyone watched football on NBC:
|Show||Overall||African American||Same Gender Spouse/Partner|
|NBC Sunday Night Football||13.7||19.5||6|
But the numbers started to drift right after that.
|#||Overall Viewers||African American||Same Gender Spouse/Partner|
|2||FOX+NFLN THU NT Football||FOX+NFLN THU NT Football||The Conners|
|3||Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick||Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick||FOX+NFLN THU NT Football|
|4||NCIS||Empire||Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick|
|5||60 Minutes||Football NT America PT 3||Football NT America PT 3|
|6||Football NT America PT 3||FOX+NFLN THU NT PRE-KICK||This is Us|
|7||FOX+NFLN THU NT Pre-Kick||The Masked Singer||60 Minutes|
|8||The Voice||60 Minutes||NCIS|
|9||FBI||All Rise||Grey’s Anatomy|
|10||The Voice (Tues.)||Chicago PD||911|
The extrapolation to be taken from this is that overall people like to watch the same things. However if you look at the scripted shows that are watched by queer viewers, the common thread is that they are predominantly shows with either queer characters on regularly (This is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, and 911) or shows that have at one point in time been supportive of queer characters/actors (The Connors – Sara Gilbert is a lesbian in real life). The aberration is NCIS, which has only shown negative portrayals of queer characters.
On Beyond the Ten
All of this is good, and tells us that like begets like. That is, overall queer viewers want to watch shows with positive queer representation. But Nielsen goes deeper than that when it looks at the top 50 shows by week and season to date.
For the week of October 14 through the 20th, in 2019, 35 of the top 50 network TV shows watched by queers were scripted. Only 8 of those are shows we would consider to have regular, generally positive, representation of queer female, non-binary, and/or transgender characters.
|7||This is Us||NBC|
|17||God Friended Me||CBS|
|37||The Good Place||NBC|
Some shows, like The Good Place, are contentious picks for positive representation. Conversely, Modern Family did make the top 50 but it has no queer female characters. Bob’s Burgers, similarly, does not have regular representation but when it does, it has positive representation. The Simpson’s is a separate matter all together.
The Whole Season
Of course, week to week isn’t the only metric by which we should be measuring the viewing patterns of shows. From Nielsen you can also see the overall status for the season. From September 23rd through October 20th, 33 of the top 50 shows were scripted. Of the 33, there were only 7 shows that we consider to have consistent and/or positive qualifying representation.
|7||This is Us||NBC|
|20||God Friended Me||CBS|
Now here’s for the amazing news.
Two of the top 50 shows this season are shows that are queer female headlined shows. They’re also the only two shows on air right now where the primary character (the main focus/headliner character) is a queer woman: Stumptown and Batwoman.
Yes, there are queer characters as mains for other shows (like The 100, Supergirl, and 911). However all of those characters are on ensemble shows. This means they are a focus but not the primary focus of the show. When you look at Batwoman and Stumptown, the majority of every scene and the purpose of every plot involves Kate or Dex.
If You Film It, We Will Watch
It’s clear that humans are humans and will watch generally the same content. We like sports, we like dramas, and we like sitcoms. Today, Nielsen is providing us with data that backs up the claims that queer people do, in fact, want to watch characters who represent themselves.
We want to see a bisexual detective. We want to see a lesbian superhero. We want to have lesbian paramedics and doctors, young adults finding themselves, the sassy neighbour, and the politicians.
We want to see ourselves, and if you give us those shows, we will come and watch and celebrate having them.