From the desk of Director of Entertainment Research and Analysis, Megan Townsend
Storytelling is the cornerstone of our society – we learn by sharing our experiences, connecting with each other, telling our life stories, and learning about the wider world around ourselves and how to interact with our environments. Popular media is the most impactful tool we use to share those stories on a global scale.
The importance of entertainment and the human need for entertainment-as-connection has become even more apparent since the COVID-19 pandemic changed all our lives last year. As billions faced isolation in quarantine and lockdowns around the world, we turned to TV, movies, videogames and other media in droves to get through the past year and a half. Nielsen’s “Total Audience” study (March 2021) reported that in the third quarter of 2020, U.S. adults aged 18 or older spend almost five hours per day – or just over 33 hours per week – on video on live and time-shifted TV or on TV-connected. Fandom.com’s “State of Fandom 2020” study reported that audiences are looking to media for connection now more than ever. Those who say they use entertainment to connect grew 80 percent year-over-year (to 36 percent).
The past year has seen a variety of changes and creative experiments from studios on how to release a film beyond just the box office and changes to the long-accepted 90-day window. We’ll continue to see these experiments play out with many films already announced to favor a hybrid day-and-date release or a shortened window – at least for the calendar year. But there remains a deep passion and a bigger meaning to the communal moviegoing experience. As vaccines become more widespread in the U.S., audiences are excited for a return to “normal.”
- Nielsen reports that 63 percent of Americans say they are “very or somewhat” eager to go to a movie theater within three months of COVID restrictions being lifted.
- Polling from movie ticket company Fandango found that 96% of 4,000 users surveyed plan to see “multiple movies” in theaters this summer with 87% listing “going to the movies” as the top slot in their summer plans.
- An April poll from Morning Consult/The Hollywood Reporter found that 51-53 percent of respondents would likely purchase a film ticket within a month of a state meeting federal regulations to open, combined with increased sanitization and staggered seating policies.
It will take time to see the long-term impacts of how the entertainment industry and the theatrical business change in response to COVID and the continuing growth and proliferation of streaming services owned by the studios. One thing remains certain: it is essential that the stories Hollywood exports include LGBTQ people, and are reflecting the full diversity of our community and experiences. We know that #RepresentationMatters, and getting to know, see, hear from, and connect with LGBTQ people through entertainment continues to be a pathway to greater understanding and acceptance.
Here’s the proof:
- GLAAD and Procter & Gamble last May launched the first “LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media” study, a survey measuring the attitudes of non-LGBTQ Americans to exposure of LGBTQ people and images in the media. The survey found audiences are comfortable with seeing LGBTQ characters in films (76 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents), and the findings showed that seeing LGBTQ characters in media is related to greater acceptance of the community. Simply stated, representation does drive cultural change and accelerates acceptance.
- Respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ images in media within the past three months reported far higher percentages of increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent years compared to those who had not seen an LGBTQ image in media in the past three months. This ranges from an 11-percentage point difference for non-binary people (41 percent became more accepting in recent years and had seen images in past three months versus 30 percent who had not been exposed to images in the past three months) and transgender people (44 to 33 percent), a 13-percentage point difference for gays and lesbians (48 vs 35 percent), and a 14 point difference regarding bisexual people (45 to 31 percent).
- In June 2020, GLAAD teamed with Netflix for a survey polling over 6,000 adults in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru on the impact of inclusive TV and film. A majority of respondents (68 percent) said they had watched a show or film that gave them a better understanding of the LGBTQ community, and 73 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents reported seeing LGBTQ characters and stories on-screen made them feel more comfortable with LGBTQ people. Among LGBTQ respondents, 87 percent feel that film and TV more accurately reflect the LGBTQ community now than just two years ago; showing that change is moving quickly, though respondents specifically highlighted a need for improvement with more storylines featuring LGBTQ parents and families among others. This is particularly noteworthy as 75 percent of LGBTQ respondents reported feeling that entertainment has helped their family to better understand the community. A 2015 Variety survey found that 38 percent of people polled cited LGBTQ characters as a “key influence” in their support for the community. All these findings continue to align with studies dating back to the 1990s that have persistently proven that inclusive entertainment and news media have a significant effect on viewers’ perceptions of the LGBTQ community and accelerating acceptance.
Telling meaningful LGBTQ stories is not just the right thing to do, it’s also just smart business. Our roadmap to success is found in the numbers.
LGBTQ people are a significant audience. GLAAD and The Harris Poll’s Accelerating Acceptance report shows that 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 and 12 percent aged 35-51 identify as LGBTQ. Twelve percent of Americans 18-34 identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. A majority of these age groups would also call themselves allies – 63 percent of Americans 18-34 and 53 percent of Americans 35-51. We’ve seen similar findings substantiated across multiple demographics as well; the University of Chicago’s GenForward Survey⁶ found that one in five Latinx millennials identify as LGBTQ. The General Social Survey⁷ from NORC at the University of Chicago has shown that young people are increasingly identifying as bisexual+ and the most notable growth is among young Black women, with 23 percent of Black women 18-34 in America identifying as bisexual in 2018.
Nielsen’s State of the LGBTQ Moviegoer report explicitly states, “studios and theaters alike can bolster box office sales by […] tailoring their promotions and offerings to LGBT moviegoers’ entertainment needs.” Nielsen found that queer audiences are 22 percent more likely to see a new theatrical release more than once compared to straight audiences at three out of every 10 surveyed respondents. The same study additionally reported that LGBTQ audiences are also meaningful long-term customers with respondents being nine percent more likely than non-LGBTQ audiences to purchase a film on DVD, Blu-Ray or Digital and 22 percent more likely to have a streaming service subscription. According to a 2020 Nielsen report, LGBTQ audiences were across the board more likely to have used each of five streaming services tracked than the total population in the past seven days (Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube Free, YouTube Paid).
LGBTQ audiences are also more likely to generate social media buzz and word of mouth recommendations. Forty-nine percent of all LGBTQ moviegoers said they texted, tweeted, or otherwise posted about a film the same day they saw it as compared to 34 percent of straight audiences, per Nielsen. In 2020, Nielsen reported that LGBTQ users are nearly two times more likely to be heavy social media users than the total population, and were 80% more likely to have used Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter in the last month than the general population.
The top five genres among LGBTQ audiences are Horror, Sci-Fi or Fantasy, Romance, Drama, and Graphic Novels/Comics per Nielsen. A 2016 study found LGBTQ buying power in the U.S. alone to be $917 Billion, with recent estimates showing further growth. Nielsen reports that LGBTQ households spend seven percent more per year than the average household and makes 10 percent more shopping trips to retail locations in a year. LGBTQ fans across books, movies, and music spend at least six percent more than the average fan of each of those entertainment types.
Studios must acknowledge these trends, paying particular attention to promoting and advertising titles that include LGBTQ characters, and informing audiences as to why they should consistently and loyally purchase movie tickets and spread the word. Prioritizing creating the same type of consumer goods and purchasing experiences as other non-inclusive films in their slates provides even greater opportunity for representation and inclusion. Harnessing the power and passion of LGBTQ audiences with meaningful stories and characters can only benefit studio’s bottom lines.
GLAAD works every day to educate, support, and challenge networks, studios, and creators to ensure fair, accurate, and inclusive LGBTQ representations in media. In this changing world, we remain vigilant and relentlessly focused on the work to be done.
Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis, GLAAD Media Institute