With no shortage of Pride parades, rallies, and parties this June, America is busy showing its LGBTQ+ pride and honoring the 1969 Stonewall uprising in full force. In the downtime between events, however, people are still turning to TV to relax and recharge. And what better TV to watch this month than shows highlighting LGBTQ+ characters and stories? Samba TV dug into the data for a look at how LGBTQ+ representation is faring on TV and who’s watching.
As shown in the 2021-2022 GLAAD Where We Are on TV Report, overall representation of LGBTQ+ characters has improved year-over-year. Across both broadcast and cable, there was an uptick in LGBTQ+ series regular characters in the 2021-2022 season compared to the prior year.
However, there is still ample room for improvement, particularly among top streaming shows. Samba TV analyzed the top 30 shows* from March, April, and May, and found that only 12 - less than half - had at least one main character** who was explicitly identified as being LGBTQ+, while 18 had no element of LGBTQ+ representation within the main cast. Six of the top shows had two or more main characters who were explicitly identified as being LGBTQ+, while six had one LGBTQ+ main character.
Of the six shows with two or more main characters who were explicitly identified as being LGBTQ+, half aired on HBO. The full list included Euphoria (HBO), Hacks (HBO), Killing Eve (BBCA), Our Flag Means Death (HBO), Outer Range (Amazon Prime), and Severance (Apple TV+).
In today’s fragmented media landscape, one of the key questions Samba TV aims to answer is where advertisers can find elusive and highly-coveted TV audiences at scale. It is no secret that millennials and Gen Z viewers are abandoning cable programming in droves and turning toward streaming content. In fact, according to our most recent State of Viewership Report, the rate of cord-shaving accelerated by more than 20% year-over-year, especially among millennial households where one in four watched less than one hour of linear TV per week.
Interestingly, our analysis found that shows with multiple LGBTQ+ main characters captured the attention of millennial households. Five out of the six shows with multiple LGBTQ+ main characters over-indexed among the 25-34 age group, with Our Flag Means Death and Killing Eve over-indexing by the highest margins (+21% and +18%, respectively).
Viewership also skewed towards affluent income brackets across the six shows with two or more LGBTQ+ main characters. Five of the six shows over-indexed among the $200K+ income group, with Hacks, Killing Eve, and Severance in particular over-indexing by margins >67%.
Additionally, viewership of shows that feature LGBTQ+ main characters is not limited to coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles. On the contrary, cities like Pittsburgh, Denver, and Chicago over-indexed across almost all of the shows with LGBTQ+ representation (Pittsburgh over-indexed on 11 out of the 12 shows, while Denver and Chicago on nine out of the 12). On the other hand, New York only over-indexed in viewership of three out of the 12 shows with LGBTQ+ main characters, while Los Angeles did on four.
Our Flag Means Death and Euphoria, both HBO shows, stood out among the top 30 shows for their high levels of representation, with six and four LGBTQ+ main characters, respectively. Euphoria in particular attracted a diverse, sought-after audience. It was one of only three of the top 30 shows to over-index among Hispanic viewers, and one of only 14 to over-index among Gen Z (age 20-24) viewers.
Netflix’s Heartstopper was another show that generated significant buzz and praise for telling a feel-good queer love story and handling LGBTQ+ themes with sensitivity and care. It was also featured in the top 50 shows of the month in both April and May (#35 and #38, respectively) and similarly Heartstopper attracted a valuable, diverse audience. Beyond the coasts, viewers in Denver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh over-indexed in viewership, along with millennials and households in the $200K+ income bracket.
As Pride month comes to a close, we are reminded of the power behind showcasing diversity on TV. With valuable audiences rewarding programs that invest in LGBTQ+ stories, let’s hope that the coming year brings even more quality programs like Our Flag Means Death, Euphoria, and Heartstopper - because everyone deserves to see themselves represented on the big screen.
*Based on ReelGood list of top shows
**Main characters defined as those featured in the majority of episodes
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