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What entertainment companies are doing to end ‘exclusion by familiarity’ and and make their workforces, productions more diverse

Hard as it is to break into Hollywood, it’s exponentially harder if you are not white, male and straight.

An entertainment company recently surveyed the production freelancers its various groups hire to work on its shoots. For one of its groups, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community accounted for 1% of the freelancers hired in the past year. Suffice to say, improving the diversity of its productions has become “a big priority for us,” said an executive at the company. That’s true not only for this company but for the entertainment industry at large.

Following the protests over the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, companies across the entertainment industry are confronting the lack of diversity within their workforces and on their production shoots. They are conducting content audits to assess the diversity in their programming and setting quarterly and annual diversity goals, such as the percentage of on-camera talent and production crew members who are people of color.

Moreover, they are forming diversity committees and employee resource groups dedicated to specific marginalized groups, including Black, female and Latinx employees. And they are turning to organizations like diversity consultancy Women of Color Unite for help in finding members of these underrepresented groups to work at their companies and on their productions.

“Right now I have a brace on my wrist from carpal tunnel. That’s how much I’ve been hit up,” said Cheryl L. Bedford, executive director of Women of Color Unite and producer of films including the documentary “Dark Girls.” In February 2018, she organized an event to bring together women of color in the entertainment industry. That event led to the creation of The JTC List, a free, searchable database that currently lists more than 1,300 women of color in the entertainment industry that companies can hire to work on their productions. “So no one can say that they can’t find any women of color for any position,” said Bedford.

Since the beginning of June, through the #StartWith8Hollywood initiative, Women of Color Unite and The Bitch Pack — a group promoting female screenwriters — have helped to organize meetings between 300 women of color in the entertainment industry and studio executives, talent agents, showrunners and executive producers that can help them in some fashion. “All they have to do is meet with eight women of color and do one substantive thing for their career. Read their script, make an introduction, help with their résumé, whatever the mentees need,” said Bedford.

What the mentees need is a foot in the door. The issue of diversity within the entertainment industry is not so different than in many other industries. The people in power tend to be white and male — and they tend to hire people who look like themselves. According to the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report published by UCLA in February, 91% of C-suite executives at 11 major and midsize Hollywood studios are whiteand 82% are male. When including senior executives, 93% are white and 80% male.

While far from a new issue, companies are now taking actual steps to address the lack of diversity within their ranks and on their sets. That work starts with assessing the current level of level of diversity. From that baseline, they can identify the areas most in need for improvement and then reference databases like The JCT List and Black in Film to identify potential hires.

One entertainment company has started tracking what share of its production teams are members of underrepresented groups, said an executive at this company. This company has set diversity goals for each team to meet within the next 12 months, with quarterly targets and monthly assessments to gauge their progress.

For some companies, the focus is primarily on improving diversity within the company rather than the content it produces. “Diversity and inclusion in our content is far better than in the office. So our efforts right now are focused on our employees and our makeup in the company,” said a second entertainment executive whose company has formed a diversity and inclusion group within the past month or so.

However, the diversity of a company and the diversity of its content can go hand in hand. If the employees tasked with hiring on-camera talent and production crews are white and male and straight, they are more likely to hire straight white men. Bedford calls this bias “exclusion by familiarity.” People may not intentionally look to hire people who look like them, but they may do exactly that nonetheless.

A third entertainment company has a somewhat diverse leadership team, with 60% of its leaders being women and 40% being people of color. But, the racial diversity among its employees overall is low enough that the company has set the target of having 35% of its employees be Black and other people of color by the end of this year.

Additionally, the company’s content audit has so far shown a relative absence of Black actors and actresses. Taken together, the homogeneity of the company’s employees appears to be reflected in its content, and the company may not have seen the issue without taking a hard look at itself. “It creates a bias, even if you don’t see it at first,” said the executive.

Confessional

“On YouTube, we’re very focused on monetization. On Facebook, we’re still trying to figure out how to keep our video views consistent, so monetization on Facebook is nice to have when we get it.”

— Media executive

Stay tuned: YouTube’s new mid-roll ad rule

Apparently two minutes is a lot. By the end of this month, YouTube will lower the minimum length requirement for a video to carry mid-roll ads from 10 minutes to eight minutes, and video makers are pretty pumped.

“It’s huge,” said one media executive of the change. “It’s a massive change for the better, especially given that CPMs and RPMs are back up but obviously not growing the way they were before [March]. There are a lot of publishers and creators who are creating content and trying to stretch to hit that 10-minute mark.”

Indeed. Over the past couple years, publishers and creators have extended their videos’ lengths in order to carry multiple mid-roll ads and increase the revenue they can reap. Some publishers and creators may have worked to ensure their videos merited the extra length, but others have added filler, like extending their videos’ end cards, in order to meet the 10-minute threshold.

The news means that video makers won’t have to make such an effort to qualify for the mid-roll ads that can almost double the money they make per video. It also means they will be able to make more money from old videos that were just shy of 10 minutes long because YouTube will now turn on mid-roll ads for eligible videos between 8 and 10 minutes in length.

However, video makers may want to keep their celebrations in check. Audiences can get annoyed by the interruptive ads. YouTube fans have groused about the back-to-back mid-roll ads that YouTube began inserting over a year ago. Their tolerance may be lower when a video is shorter, which could compromise the money publishers and creators make from the shorter videos. While YouTube doesn’t seem to have put any limitations on how many mid-roll ads an 8-minute video can carry, viewers may be less willing to sit through multiple mid-roll ads in a shorter video compared to a longer one.

“What is the [mid-roll ad tolerance] threshold for a more condensed video?” asked the media executive. Guess we’ll soon find out.

Numbers don’t lie

1.5 million: Number of times NBCUniversal’s Peacock mobile app had been downloaded as of July 19, compared to 1.1 million downloads for Quite (Quibi?) and 11.5 million downloads for Disney+, according to mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

10.1 million: Number of new subscribers that Netflix added in the second quarter of 2020, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

2.7 million: Number of households that had watched “Hamilton” on Disney+ as of July 13, according to TV analytics firm Samba TV.

What we’ve covered

How Hulu’s self-serve ad tool can widen streaming’s floodgates:

  • Hulu is testing a tool for small advertisers to buy the streamer’s ad inventory on their own.
  • If Hulu expands the tool’s availability to larger advertisers, it could do for Hulu what self-serve tools have done for Google and Facebook.

Read more about Hulu here.

The TV industry contemplates a changed buying process:

  • Advertisers’ flexibility demands is remaking TV advertising’s upfront deal terms.
  • However, TV networks have their own concerns in acquiescing to advertisers’ demands.

Read more about TV buying here.

Streaming advertising reaches a tipping point:

  • Viewership has shifted to streaming and ad dollars are expected to follow this year.
  • TV networks are making streaming a more central part of their upfront pitches, while streaming-only players’ pitches have matured.

Read more about streaming advertising here.

Facebook publishers see video ad revenue drop as advertisers boycott:

  • Publishers’ Facebook video ad revenue in July has fallen 10% to 50% below the June mark.
  • The drop coincides with the advertiser boycott, but there are other factors at play.

Read more about Facebook here.

What we’re reading

Discovery tries to straddle TV, streaming:
Like every other TV network group, Discovery is attempting to build up its streaming business. Complicating that move is its legacy TV business, as detailed by The Information. While the article is focused on the departure of the exec overseeing Discovery’s direct-to-consumer business Peter Faricy, central to that departure is Discovery’s planned streaming service and how much original programming it will carry. Per the report, Faricy wanted the service to have mostly exclusive shows, but Discovery’s distribution deals with traditional pay-TV providers caps how many original shows could be exclusive to the streamer. Now, Faricy is goneand Discovery has renegotiated some of its TV deals so its streamer could have more exclusive programming.

Political ad dollars target lifestyle TV shows:
News shows and programs attracting large audiences, like sports, are natural targets for political ad dollars. But this year, presidential campaigns have widened their purview to lifestyle networks like Food Network, Bravo and A&E, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Considering that many media companies are counting on political advertisers offsetting the reduced revenue from marketers hit by the coronavirus crisis, this trend could be a positive sign for those programmers and publishers that may not historically have been big beneficiaries of election ad dollars, which could be considerable with the presidential race in it’s last 100 days.

Google’s connected TV ambitions:
Amazon and Roku have become the duopoly in connected TV that Google and Facebook are on the web. But Google isn’t exactly sitting out the CTV market, as this report from LightShed Partners indicates. Through Chromecast and Android TV, Google has been quietly been building up its CTV hardware footprint, including striking deals with TV manufacturers to use its Android TV software. Google has a bunch of catching up to do, but then so did Amazon when it came at the Google-Facebook duopoly. As an agency executive put it to me recently, “Google is moving at glacier speed in CTV, but when they get there, they’re still a glacier.”

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