This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
People are seeing that shows with people of color can make money,” Taraji P. Henson told reporters days after Empire’s second episode solidified its status as the highest-rated new series of the 2014-15 TV season. “When things make money, people are interested.”
The actress might not be surprised that her Fox family soap, which climbed to nearly 15 million viewers in time-shifted ratings, is the success story of the winter. But few could have foreseen it would grow live ratings for its second and third episodes, an unheard-of feat during the DVR era. And Empire owes much of those early spoils to its black audience.
The hip-hop drama from co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and executive producer Brian Grazer counts 62 percent of its adults 18-to-49 viewership as African-American, according to Nielsen, and the first two episodes averaged a massive 17.1 rating in that demo (compared with a 3.9 rating in 18-to-49 in live-plus-same-day). “Our goal was to make this show an event for a core group of people and make it really tantalizing for a really broad group of people,” says Fox Television Group COO Joe Earley. “It’s broad and niche at the same time.”
Luring black viewers, women in particular, involved aggressive advertising on cable networks VH1 and Bravo (Fox wanted The Real Housewives fans), segments on nationally syndicated hip-hop radio stations like New York’s Power 105.1 and more than 40 influencer screenings ? many planned with lifestyles-marketing firm Liquid Soul, which made a similar push for black audiences in 2013 with corporate sibling Fox Searchlight’s 12 Years a Slave.