Horizon Media Study Finds Growing Tolerance of Transgender People in U.S., But Gap Between Acceptance and Understanding Persists

Implications for Marketers and TV Programmers Vary Across Gender Lines

Jul 07, 2015, 08:06 ET from Horizon Media

NEW YORK, July 7, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- According to a recent study from Horizon Media's Finger on the Pulse -- the agency's proprietary online research community, comprised of 3,000 people reflective of the U.S. population-- tolerance of diversity in gender identity is becoming the norm. Still, the appetite for entertainment dealing with the topic may be higher for women compared to men. 

The survey results suggests that in the abstract, all American adults are accepting of transgender people. Almost eight in ten adults (77%) agree, "When it comes to transgender people, I have a 'live and let live' attitude." Among these, women are more likely to say they "agree a lot" (48%) than men are (36%). At first glance, this bodes well for attracting women to programs like ABC Family's "Becoming Us," TLC's July 15 debut of "I Am Jazz," and E!'s upcoming "I Am Cait." 

However, general tolerance of transgender identities doesn't necessarily equate to understanding. Most Americans are still uncomfortable or even resistant to the realities of gender transition. Just over half (53%) agree, "I'm uncomfortable with people changing their gender," and a strong majority (71%) agree, "A person's true gender is the one they're born with."

"The results give programmers and advertisers something to think about," said Sheri Roder, Chief of the WHY Group at Horizon Media. "There is more social pressure now to publicly espouse acceptance of people and their personal choices, including gender identity, whether or not you truly acknowledge this behind closed doors. So a question remains about how much people will want to see these stories play out on screen."

"Tolerance is certainly the trend, and it's not just transgender people on TV. The Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage is a historic reversal of old attitudes," says Kirk Olson, VP of TrendSights at Horizon Media. "But trying to align with a new, arguably pivotal moment in the LGBT movement may not be the best move for marketers who are late to the party."

When it comes to ratings, the draw of a bona fide celebrity in transition may make all the difference for E!. The study shows that Caitlyn Jenner is more likely to be admired by women for her openness while men remain slightly conflicted. Overall, a slight majority of men and women (55%) agree that they admire Jenner's openness about gender transition. But within this slight majority, a full two-thirds of women agree (66%) versus just under half (45%) of men. 

"I would expect decent ratings for 'I am Cait,'" said Kirk Olson, VP of TrendSights at Horizon. "Regardless of how viewers personally feel about transgender people, content that deals with 'otherness' in this way comes with a strong curiosity draw. The fact that such a well-known person is at the center of the story will amp this up. Women in particular are more likely to tune in because more of them admire Caitlyn for what she is doing." 

Gender transition aside, people believe gender roles are becoming more fluid for everyone. Nearly eight in ten American adults (77%) agree "Even for heterosexual people, gender roles have become less clear-cut these days;" And again, women lead this evolutionary mindset with a full third (36%) saying they "agree a lot" compared to a quarter (26%) of men.

"Men see gender roles shifting and even show a growing acceptance of transgender people," continued Olson. "But that doesn't mean they'll tune in to see Caitlyn's transition play out on TV. Some will. But men who are uncomfortable with the issue of gender transition will simply choose to watch something else. As for the controversy surrounding her upcoming appearance on the ESPYs, some won't be phased while others may change the channel while she gets her award. Sports are such a powerful draw that we don't expect many detractors will stay away completely. If anything, her appearance may draw a few more women."

In the bigger picture, the results of the Horizon study shed light on how E!, ABC Family, and even Amazon's "Transparent" series tap into the zeitgeist. "One could say that launching a reality show about a famous transgender person is a seminal moment in today's TV landscape and an important opportunity for brands with a history of advertising to LGBT audiences," continued Roder. "Is this the way we'll bring challenging topics to the forefront in the future?  If E! can make it a reality show that feels less contrived -- more documentary and observational, less edited --I think it could be really interesting. And one way or another, it's a telling commentary on changing American societal norms." 

About Horizon Media
Horizon Media, Inc. is the largest and fastest growing privately held media services agency in the world. The company was founded in 1989, is headquartered in New York and has offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago. Horizon Media was chosen as 2011 Independent Media Agency of the Year by Mediapost, 2010 U.S. Media Agency of the Year by Adweek, Brandweek, and Mediaweek as well as by Ad Age and as one of the world's ten most innovative marketing and advertising companies by Fast Company in 2011. In 2012, Bill Koenigsberg, President, CEO and Founder, was honored by Advertising Age as Industry Executive of the Year. Most recently, in 2014, Bill Koenigsberg was named 4As Chair of the Board and is the first person from a media agency to hold this prestigious position in the 100 year history of the 4As, the marketing industry's leading trade association.

The company's mission is "To create the most meaningful brand connections within the lives of people everywhere." By delivering on this mission through a holistic approach to brand marketing, Horizon Media has become one of the largest and fastest-growing media agencies in the industry, with estimated billings of over $5.2 billion and over 1,100 employees.

The company is also a founding member of Columbus Media International, a multi-national partnership of independent media agencies. For more information, please visit horizonmedia.com.


Horizon Media
Kaya Lobaczewski
(212) 220-2102

SOURCE Horizon Media