January 29, 2023

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Illuminative, Nielsen releases new data on the impact of native content

3 min read

New data from Illumination, a Native women-led social justice organization, and Nielsen’s Sen On Screen case study show that the number of Indigenous people in leading roles across TV and streaming has expanded over the past two years, but there’s still plenty of room for growth.

The findings claimed that despite the overall representation of Aboriginal people being below population parity, the number of Aboriginal lead recurring roles increased by 100% between 2021 and 2022. Only 1% of shows across all platforms have Aboriginal representation as a lead or recurring character.

“Visibility is power, and we as Indigenous people know firsthand the importance of being seen and shown on screen in an authentic and equitable way,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of Illuminative. “We are very grateful to the Nielsen researchers who helped illuminate this data and reaffirm what we already know – native representation and native-led content are good for business. Both native and non-native audiences are hungry for Native-centric stories like blockbuster hits ‘Pray’ and ‘Reservation Dogs’, which have helped revive the streaming industry. The long-standing myth that native content doesn’t pay has been debunked and Hollywood has lost its excuses. We have a long way to go to reach parity, but we’re thrilled to celebrate the historic success of Native creatives in the entertainment industry to get us where we are today.”

Considering what this means for investors, research shows that content that includes native people both attracts new viewers and helps platforms retain them. FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” which is available for streaming on Hulu, got 1.4 million new viewers and had a 23% platform retention rate, meaning 23% of viewers stayed on the platform to watch its other offerings.

The same was said about Hulu’s “Prey” and A&E’s “Dark Winds.” The former film opened as the fourth highest-grossing film in its release week, attracting domestic audiences that contributed 22 million viewing minutes. “Dark Winds” viewers made up 6% of A&E’s network total following its premiere

Additionally, Pree attracts a 27% Hispanic audience, partially proving that Native-led content attracts non-Native viewers.

The findings were unveiled Saturday during a panel discussion at Adivasi House at the Sundance Film Festival. The conversation explores the demand for Native content and how Native-led storytelling has helped revitalize streaming and viewer retention, as well as explores the nuance and complexity that Native-led shows bring to the screen.

Featured speakers were Crystal Echo Hawk, Founder and Executive Director of Illuminati; Tajbah Chavez, writer and director; Latasha Gillespie, Global Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility at Amazon Studios and Prime Video; Patricia Ratulangi, VP of Global Communications and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Nielsen; and Valerie Complex, Deadline associate editor and film writer serving as moderator.

“The representation of Native Americans and indigenous peoples on screen has been virtually non-existent for a long time,” said Pat Ratulangi, Nielsen’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. “As we’ve seen with shows and movies like ‘Reservation Dogs,’ ‘Dark Winds’ and ‘Pry,’ authentic Native and Indigenous representations are attracting new audiences to media platforms and helping those platforms retain viewers. While the overall representation of Indigenous peoples is still below population parity, the entertainment industry is finally beginning to understand the economic impact of investing in Native stories and storytellers.”

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