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Inclusivity makes dollars and sense for the media 

September 5, 2023 | By Theresa Cramer – Independent Journalist @Cramerstrasse

If you want to understand the importance of DEI as it relates to the media business in 2023, there’s just one word you need to know: imperative. When you start leafing through the research, you’ll find “imperative” pops up a lot. Why? Because research universally reveals that a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is of vital importance — crucial, even — to success in today’s media and entertainment environment. 

The business case for DEI 

The moral case for creating media that takes representation into consideration is clear. But for years, media companies have lagged at becoming more inclusive, sometimes even arguing that it just didn’t make good business sense (even when that obviously wasn’t true). Now, a trio of research reports further refutes that thinking. 

Source: Deloitte’s “Media Reimagined”

Deloitte’s “Media Reimagined” study found that Black, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ audiences represent a third of the $717 billion U.S. media and entertainment market. “Combined, these three audiences spend more than $250 billion annually and contribute an even higher percentage (52%) among U.S. adult Gen Z entertainment spend,” according to Deloitte.

And lest you think you can entice this audience with any old content, think again. Deloitte found:

  • 71% of current media and entertainment spend among Black, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ audiences is driven by feelings of inclusivity 
  • 54% of current media and entertainment spend tied to inclusivity can be traced to women-identifying audiences 
  • 13% increase of incremental and/or stabilized revenue potential across all audiences when they feel more included

Dollars and cents aside, inclusivity also leads to better content that all audiences can appreciate. “Our new research reveals that improving equity in the media and entertainment industry increases brand loyalty, drives growth, and results in fresh content that more closely aligns with consumer needs and expectations,” Deloitte summarizes.

Source: Amazon’s 2023 Higher Impact report 

But it’s not just movies, television, and podcasts we need to think about moving forward. Inclusivity in ads matters, too. According to the 2023 Higher Impact report from Amazon Ads, 79% of consumers are more likely to purchase products or services from brands whose values align with their own — and increasingly, DEI is among those values. 

Nearly half (45%) of consumers are willing to pay more for a product that reflects and promotes DEI, according to the Amazon report. And ​​46% of consumers say they go out of their way to choose brands that have corporate commitments to DEI. In other words, consumers are watching — and they reward corporate efforts (and authenticity) when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The full picture 

It’s one thing to put out a DEI statement, it’s another thing for media companies to hold themselves accountable and achieve diversity at all levels. Deloitte found that three in five respondents “do not feel empowered to prioritize equity in decision-making” while one in three “feel their leaders don’t understand what diversity and inclusion means.” Another quarter of people “say the lack of diversity at senior levels is an issue.”

And in the film industry, that lack of diversity leads to a dearth of diverse stories. Annenberg Foundation research finds that female directors tell stories with more female characters, more characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, more women over age 40, and they hire more women working in other notable behind‐the‐scenes positions.

Unfortunately, The Annenberg Foundation’s latest report, The Inclusion List, produced in cooperation with The Adobe Foundation, finds that inclusion in Hollywood is lacking in diversity and shows few signs of improvement in recent years. With regards to the representation of women on screen, the report’s lead author Stacy L. Smith said, “What’s even more powerful about this list – and consistent with our previous work – is that films from women and women of color directors on the list earned the highest average Metacritic score. These women are excluded from the industry when we know that they are some of the top performers, telling some of the strongest and most compelling stories. This list celebrates women of color in an industry that doesn’t.”

Source: USC Annenberg’s “The Inclusion List” a new data-driven ranking that provides the titles of the 100 most inclusive theatrically-released films from 2019 to 2022. The list goes beyond movies to rank distributors and producers as well, holding the entertainment industry accountable. 

“These trends suggest that any improvement for people from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups is limited,” according to Smith. “While it is encouraging to see changes for leading characters and for the Asian community, our data on invisibility suggests that there is still much more to be done to ensure that the diversity that exists in reality is portrayed on screen.”

The price of not paying attention to DEI

Those who continue to ignore the role DEI plays in media’s success, will be missing the boat — and significant revenue opportunities as well. The undisputed king of e-commerce knows this, and that’s why one of the ways that Amazon segments its advertising audience is “Allies of Diversity”, which it outlined in a sponsored post on Ad Week. The Allies of Diversity audience “aims to provide a solution to reach an array of consumers at scale that have demonstrated signals of allyship. Amazon infers allyship based on aggregated first-party shopping and streaming signals. The company says, “Inclusive advertising helps brands connect with a wide range of people, promotes innovation and ensures that ads can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences.” 

Clearly, Amazon has recognized the revenue potential DEI offers its advertisers but we’ll have to wait to see if Hollywood has the same epiphany. Though, as movies like “Barbie” — which sport diverse casts and women at the helm behind the scenes — rock the box office, the fiscal case for inclusion will be easier to make. However, one may have said the same thing when “Waiting to Exhale” opened at number one back in 1995 or when, in 2018, “Black Panther” became the highest-grossing superhero movie. Will the underlying facts and numbers that all support an authentic commitment to DEI be enough to move the needle?

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