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Survey asks African Americans: 'What's missing from your TV choices?'

Banner Staff | 2/7/2012, 7:57 p.m.

A coalition of consumer groups, media activists, clergy and concerned citizens are launching a national online survey to ask African American households to tell their preferences about the kind of relevant programming choices they want to see on television.

The coalition is being brought together by the Black Heritage Network, a new cable channel planned for launch this year that will offer what it calls “Black-oriented non-fiction programming.” The network hopes to use the information gathered as a guide for its own programming plans.

According to Nielsen data, African Americans watch 40 percent more hours of television per month than the general population. Despite being one of TV’s most important audiences, programming that addresses their varied interests are not being offered. Coalition members say that there is plenty of research on what African American are watching, but virtually nothing on what they would prefer to see on television.

A review of TV programs now being aired that feature African Americans in starring roles reveals that most are so-called reality-based shows or re-runs of comedies that were once featured on the major four networks. The next largest block of hours of particular interest to blacks consists of re-broadcasts of theatrically released movies (again, mostly comedies) starring black actors.

“Based upon the viewing options available to black households, there seems to be a conscious effort to ignore certain types of programs that appeal to African Americans,” said Dr. Teresa Hairston, a member of the coalition and consultant to the Black Heritage Network. “News, interviews, documentaries and issue-oriented programs targeted for African Americans are almost impossible to find, especially during the primetime schedule.”

Conducting a first-time national survey asking African-Americans what they want to see on television will clearly demonstrate there is demand for a broader range of programs beyond entertainment. WhatIWantToSee.com, which is being supported by various African American groups and media outlets, plans to get as many participants to “vote” for more TV options as possible during the next two months.

“Many of the decisions that are made by the TV industry are based not necessarily on research but on the opinions and experiences of executives’,” said Dr. Hairston. “This is an important opportunity for black families to let the industry know exactly what kinds of program choices they want, especially for their children.”

In addition to gathering ideas for programs, the survey will ask participants to rank their interest in programs covering news and current affairs, documentaries and independent films, public television programs and regionally-aired shows.

The survey will be available online at www.WhatIWantToSee.com beginning January 15th — the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King — until February 29th — the end of Black History Month. Some of the nation’s leading newspapers, radio programs, magazines and websites will be encouraging their audiences to participate. The results will be made through these same outlets and will also be delivered to key leaders in media, civil rights and academia.

For further information, visit www.WhatIWantToSee.com.