NEW YORK – A plethora of new Asian films on Amazon Prime. The success of Mindy Kaling’s creation ‘Never Have I Ever’, which hit #1 on Netflix. ‘Parasite’ winning the Academy’s top film award. An explosion of Asian-American inspired and created gaming and entertainment devices; more users on social media, by demographics; a growing body of voters, entrepreneurs, and skilled professionals. It’s truly yet another golden age for the Asian American community, which is gaining more visibility in the United States, than ever before.
A new report by Nielsen, “Engaging Asian American Consumers at the Dawn of a New Decade”, part of Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Series, explores the community’s consumer behaviors that are setting the pace for two important industry trends: the media platforms that are winning among Asian Americans amid the streaming wars and the content that is capturing their attention; and secondly, the gaming industry that is breaking boundaries as entertainment, and how Asian Americans are integral to its ecosystem as gamers, spectators, and content creators.
‘There’s been a sea change in how Asian Americans are perceived in the U.S. For a long time, Asian-American characters were mainly a martial artist or the awkward nerd; and when it wasn’t a speaking character, an owner of a convenient store or a laundromat – and always the foreigner,’ Nielsen notes.
There were some notable moments along the way, like Connie Chung’s appointment as the co-anchor of the CBS Evening News in 1993 and the all-Asian cast feature, The Joy Luck Club in 1994, the report says.
A pivotal time came in the early 2000s when Harold and Kumar demolished the image of Asian Americans as nerdy and sexless at the box office. The world was also introduced to YouTube. It was a defining moment for Asian American content creators and the community at large.
Through this content, Asian Americans began defining their own representation, shifting from self-interest to Asian American interest. As more Asian American content creators were sharing their authentic and unabashed experiences on social media, the bigger their audience grew of all backgrounds, capturing the interest of Hollywood, the report says.
In 2007, the percentage of Asian-speaking characters in US films was 3.4%. By 2018, that number had grown to 8.2%. The success of the Korean movie, Parasite, making history as the first non-English-language movie to win the Academy’s top award in 2020, also reflects American filmgoers’ comfort level with subtitles.
According to the report, Asian American households spend significantly more time on digital devices than on live TV compared to the total population. In fact, 66% of time spent is on computers, smartphones and tablets for Asian Americans, the highest ratio among all consumer segments.
This is also the group that is engaging more on TV connected devices that require internet connection like Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku at 49% versus 44% of the total population. The variance in the usage is particularly true for older Asian Americans, ages 55+ that over index by 33% versus the US average. Asian-American households are 40% more likely to be multigenerational, where elders living in those households are more likely to use the technology shared by others in the households.
As the Asian American community has shown strong support of culturally-relevant content on streaming platforms, streaming platforms like Netflix have shown more commitment and investment in producing diverse content that is representative of the US population compared to Hollywood studios.
Notable Asian American-led content on include Netflix comedy specials featuring Asian American comedians like Ronny Chieng, Jo Koy and Ken Jeong and episodic series like Ugly Delicious (Netflix), Wu Assassins (Netflix) and Pen 15 (Hulu), feature Asian American leads. The top most-watched episodic series among Asian Americans on Netflix also reflect a diverse lead cast, such as V Wars, Lost in Space and I Am Not Okay With This.
As an audience that’s savvy in social media, with 84% of Asian Americans on social media daily (versus 75% total population), Asian Americans are fueling social engagement around their favorite programming.
In the age of the pandemic, with everybody eager for breaking news, it’s no wonder that the time spent watching the news grew by 27% for Asian Americans during the three weeks in March, versus 15% for Non-Hispanic Whites.
Asian Americans were also armed with information about the severity of the pandemic through Asian news outlets that contributed to their eagerness to stay informed. In-language over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting plays an important role in Asian American communities, as they are the trusted source for local information at no cost to their viewers. Even prior to the pandemic, Asian American viewers were keen on the news and seeking it across their preferred media channels, the report notes.
With Asian Americans spending a significant amount of their day on social media, where over half spend more than one-hour per day social networking, it is not surprising that they are 15% more likely to use social media for their news versus the average, analyzes Nielsen.
Streaming of radio and podcasts are also other ways that Asian Americans are getting the news. In general, Asian Americans are streaming radio at a rate 42% higher than the average (35%), and downloading audio podcasts at a rate that is 69% higher (20%).
Asian Americans’ high level of engagement with the news reflects a community whose perception and behaviors are influenced by the news media. A source that is also important to the community is the over-the-air (OTA), in-language local news. Moreover, showing interest in issues impacting society is fundamental to playing a role in community life and civic engagement. With a rapid increase in US-born Asian Americans, representing 86% of those under the age of 18, who understand the privileges and responsibilities that come as American citizens, there is a growing representation of Asian Americans at all levels of the political process from community service to elected office.
Also, Asian influence is particularly strong in the US gaming industry, which is experiencing exponential growth as so many Americans are sheltered in place, hungry for sports and entertainment.
The report says the US saw a 45% increase in time spent playing video games over a week in late March 2020 when most of the country was shut down. With professional sports also at a halt, NASCAR held its first ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race that was broadcasted on Fox Sports 1. The broadcast drew 903,000 viewers, making it the most watched linear esports broadcast in history.
By 2021, esports viewers in the U.S. are projected to surpass all American sports league viewers except the NFL, which will open up tremendous opportunities for brands to connect with engaged audiences at scale, the report says.
With the gaming industry’s strong ties to Asia, it is no surprise that Asian Americans are playing an influential role; both as gamers as well as spectators. Asian American households own more video game related products than the total US population. In addition to over-indexing on smartphones (+4%) and computers (+14%), Asian Americans are 14% more likely to own a gaming console and 37% more likely to own Virtual Reality headsets that are mainly used for gaming. Asian-American gamers are younger with 69% falling between ages 13-34 versus 44% of US gamers, the report says.
Asians and Asian Americans have also been well represented as professional competitive players in esports, which generated $950.6 million in revenue in 2019, and expected to reach $1 billion this year. Three of the Top 10 highest earning US professional esports players are Asian American, with Saahil “Universe” Arora ranking number two as the second highest earning professional gamer in the world. Interestingly, over 200 colleges in the US are now participating in esports leagues with many offering scholarships, as well as a growing number of high schools adopting esports programs.
Despite the rise in racial discrimination attacks on the Asian community in the US, as the bridge between the East and West closes, Asian Americans will be introducing new trends to pop culture; no doubt, there will be many more new crazes that will make their way from Asia, just like bubble tea, k-beauty, and Bollywood did, Nielsen says.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)