I am always fascinated by the impact of human emotions on our consumer behavior – whether those emotions are inspired by tragedy or triumph. Two television broadcasts made ratings history recently, one because of a tragedy and one because of a triumph: the 54th Annual Grammy Awards on CBS and the contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks, February 10, on ESPN.
Nielsen research has proven Americans love sports and music programming. African- Americans are typically well-represented in both. The Grammy Awards have been a viewing favorite. Research backs up the common sense notion that Blacks tend to gravitate to programming where there are larger numbers of people who look like us – but this year, the number of us who watched the Grammys was almost off the charts (no pun intended). The recent 54th Annual Grammy Awards attracted nearly 40 million viewers (39.9 million), which made it the largest Grammy audience since 1984 and the second largest in the history of the broadcast. Of those 39.9 million viewers, African- Americans made up 6.21 million. That means a whopping 60% more Black folks watched the Grammys this year than last (3.7 million out of a total viewership of 24.7 million in 2011).
Some people like me may tune in to see who's wearing what. How fabulous will our favorites be, or how outrageous? Others are true music aficionados. While the why for this year's phenomenal success of the Grammys has not yet been officially analyzed, I suspect that the tragic news of the sudden death of beloved music icon Whitney Houston the night before piqued the increased interest. If you were like me and my friends, we were reeling with disbelief. Tuning into the Grammys seemed to offer a kind of solace and comradery in our collective desire to pay homage to a musical phenomenon who was one of our own.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the show didn't hold my attention for long beyond the luscious LL's prayer for "our fallen sister" (a very nice touch). But after his intro and having glimpsed the outrageous outfits of Nicki Minaj, Gaga and the sweet acknowledgements from Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars, I begged my Facebook friends to wake me up when they got to the Whitney tribute. Someone from Ft. Wayne, Ind. (my hometown) actually alerted me when Glen Campbell's tribute came on. (You couldn't grow up in the Fort without being inundated with his music back in the day). So I loudly and proudly sang along to the tribute. My son watched me with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. "Really, mom?! Seriously, you LIKE this country music?" (If he reacted like this to my Glen Campbell tribute, he does NOT want to be around when my sister, his Aunt Natalie, goes berserk over Kenny Rogers). Following Jennifer Hudson's moving tribute of "I Will Always Love You," and after fighting back tears, I clicked off.
On the flip side, Americans love to cheer on an underdog, a "Rocky," a champion who rises from the ashes of obscurity to achieve victory. In two words: Jeremy Lin. It was my basketball-playing son who turned me onto the phenomenon that was taking place with the undrafted 23-year old, Harvard-educated Asian-American from California and his fortuitous match-up against the New Jersey Nets. Lin has averaged 27 points per game – launching him from bench warmer to global superstar. In addition to a 73 percent increase in viewership of Knicks games on MSG and ESPN in New York, nationally the February 10 game between the Knicks and the Lakers on ESPN was the most-watched Friday night regular season NBA game on the network, so far this season - with just over 3 million viewers.
On top of that, NM Incite (a Nielsen McKinsey company) reports that social media buzz has also hit a frenzied pitch around the world since the first February 4 game. Even the phrase "LinSanity" has been coined. The online chatter about Lin has surpassed conversations about the Knicks, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant combined. Now, that's powerful. And so are you. Because, if you follow these ratings stories, you know these surges in increased viewership are a result of people just like you and me tuning in. It's great news for the networks as well as the advertisers. Those advertisers are dedicated to reaching us – the consumers. Which brings me to my mantra, "Knowledge is power." The power is in your hands, and so is the remote control.
Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.