Tyler Perry gave an incredibly moving speech at Sunday night’s BET Awards.
This speech was a culmination of what people love (and hate) about Tyler Perry. His films have opened doors for numerous black actors and actresses who are now household names, like Taraji P. Henson, Tiffany Hadish, and Idris Elba. But his content frustrates many because it reinforces stereotypes of poor, uneducated black folks.
Earlier this month, BET announced plans to launch a new subscription streaming service called BET+. The service will include both original programming from BET and content from Tyler Perry Studios’ catalog. BET+ follows the wave of solo network streaming services monetizing their own content directly with consumers.
While consumers have grown weary of the impending number of subscription streaming services, BET+ has a better case to make than many others. The cable network targets black Americans interested in entertainment and pop culture. It’s a relatively small market, albeit its tremendous influence.
Here’s a screenshot from BET.com.
BET President Scott Mills is bullish on the opportunity:
“African Americans are the leading consumers of streaming services, with higher SVOD adoption rates than other consumers, which is why we’re so excited to launch a premium product for this underserved audience.”
Here’s a follow-up on that same study from the Wall Street Journal:
That research also showed that the most popular shows among African-American viewers on Netflix were those aimed at general audiences, like “The Office” and “Family Guy,” suggesting untapped demand for African-American-focused streaming content, the person said.
This logic is plausible, but it’s flawed. Most content streamed on Netflix can be passively watched, like The Office. As REDEF’s Matthew Ball wrote last month, higher-brow shows like The Crown have a smaller audience than most think. Tyler Perry’s catalog technically fits that low-brow, passive viewership mold, but it’s different. Madea is not consumed by the same segments of black folks that drive the high SVOD numbers.
Perry’s Madea character resonates most with black church-goers. The black folks who religiously watch Tyler Perry movies are not the same black folks who jump on Twitter to live-tweet episodes of Power or complain about the racial politics in Big Little Lies. The strong SVOD numbers from black audiences are driven more by shows like Atlanta and Insecure than ones like Meet the Browns.
Perry succeeds because his niche audience sits outside the standard entertainment machine. But even though his audience is “niche,” an SVOD service is not the best way to reach them. Most of Perry’s audience has yet to “cut the cord” on cable. Until recently, he had trouble getting movie theaters in white neighborhoods to show Madea movies.
That’s not the case with shows like Atlanta and Insecure. Both of those shows—and many other shows with all-black casts— have high nonblack viewership.
For BET+ to succeed, it needs to rely heavily on its own catalog, not just Perry’s. It also needs to think deeper than just releasing content that black people watch. It needs to focus on the type of content that the “black SVOD audience” likes to stream. A lot of it is shows like Power. A lot of that is shows like The Office too. But far less of that is shows like Madea.