Hollywood’s Diversity Push FLOPS Overseas

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Fox’s Empire flops overseas illustrating Hollywood’s diversity push problem.

Season 1 of Empire was a huge paradigm shift in the TV, film and entertainment industry. A TV show on basic cable about a black family, hip-hop music, and the black experience that also had stellar ratings shocked not only audiences but Hollywood’s biggest TV networks. But, according to a new report by THR, this success did not translate internationally. In fact, Empire flopped overseas.

Take Empire. Fox’s hip-hop drama appeared to be a slam dunk for the international market: a splashy mainstream hit that felt both of the moment and a throwback to primetime soaps, and global hits, like Dallas and Dynasty. But the show has been a global flop. In the U.K., the first season drew a middling 717,000 viewers on Channel 4’s youth-oriented E4 network, a mere 3 percent share, and season 2 has been worse, averaging a 2.2 percent share with 595,000 viewers.

The bad ratings continue in Australia and Germany. In fact, the head of acquisitions points out that they took a risk buying the show but, their courage did not pay off. “Having a diverse cast creates another hurdle for U.S. series trying to break through; it would be foolish not to recognize that. We are telling our units that they need to be aware that by creating too much diversity in the leads in their show means … problems having their shows translating to the international market.”

By creating too much diversity in the leads in their show means … problems having their shows translating to the international market.”

So, it begs the question – why are TV shows featuring black characters do so well in the United States but, flop overseas?

Are people overseas racist?

empire-season-2-teaser

Well, TV shows like NCIS, CSI and the Shonda-Land (Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal) do really well in Germany, UK, and Asian countries. Apparently, it’s “black stories” that international audiences are not interested in. Timothy Havens, a professor in African-American studies at the University of Iowa and author of Black Television Travels: African American Media around the Globe argues that “black faces but non-ethnically specific kinds of stories” and are very successful worldwide. Therefore, TV shows about the black experience are not successful overseas.

“black faces but non-ethnically specific kinds of stories” and are very successful worldwide.

This has a profound impact in the amount of diversity in Hollywood. TV shows are produced in hopes that they will sell internationally. For example, NCIS earned “$205 million in revenue for CBS from sales to Europe in 2012, making it the most valuable imported series.”

Consequently, if a show concentrates specifically on black stories, there is a high probability that the show will not get picked up because, people outside of the United States will not watch it.

You can read the full report here.

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