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A Sprawling Empire: How FOX’s Hit TV Show Affects Music

3 minute read | September 2015

Toward the end of the first season of Empire, the prime-time soap opera about a music mogul and his dysfunctional family, the clan’s patriarch, Lucius Lyon (played by Terrence Howard), boldly proclaims: “Witness as Empire becomes synonymous with American culture.”

In the scene, Lyon is promoting his fictional record company, but the character could easily be talking about the real television show, which is set to return to the air for its second season on Sept. 23.

The first season of FOX’s series was a massive hit by any measure—a true cultural phenomenon across multiple mediums. In fact, its two-part finale garnered 2.4 million Tweets in the U.S. on March 18, 2015, making it the most-Tweeted TV series episode of the broadcast TV season.

Empire’s popularity spans ages and demographics, but its appeal last season was especially seen among African-Americans: it was the top-rated television show among that group during the 2014-2015 season, as an average of 11 million African-Americans tuned in to each episode live or within seven days using time-shifting.

But the show’s success hasn’t just been about the on-screen drama. Given that the show centers on a renowned record company, music plays just as big a role as the acting does. And having sold more than 431,000 copies, the soundtrack for the show has been a huge success as well, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 and remaining on the charts for 19 consecutive weeks. In addition to physical sales, the album has been streamed online fully, or in part, 122 million times.

So which songs are listener faves? “What is Love,” by V. Bozeman, has been streamed more than 21 million times to date. “Conqueror,” by Jussie Smollett featuring Estelle, is the top song by sales and airplay, selling 235,000 copies and receiving 12,000 spins on radio.

As season 2 begins this week, Empire is well positioned to continue to influence music discovery, especially among African-Americans. That’s because African-American adults 18+ watch 42% more traditional TV each week than the total U.S. population. Additionally findings from the Nielsen Music 360 2015 Study indicate that 36% of African-Americans say they find new music via television shows, compared with 31% of Hispanics and 23% of the general population.

Moreover, hip hop and R&B, the two music genres featured most frequently on the show, are among the most popular with African-American music listeners: 29% say R&B is their favorite music genre (484% more likely than the general population to say R&B is their favorite genre), and 14% say hip-hop is their favorite genre (239% more likely than the general population to say hip-hop is their favorite genre).

As an engaged audience, African-Americans represent a prime opportunity for the music industry, especially online: 17% of all paid streamers are African-American, the largest share of any ethnicity besides Caucasians. Those who indicate they are likely to start paying for streaming in the next six months skew toward 25-34 year-old, multi-cultural males.

The show’s stars aren’t the only musicians who benefit from Empire’s role as a tastemaker; a number of the guests featured in season 1 saw a bump in music consumption after appearing on the show, including Mary J. Blige (+37% week-over-week increase in digital track sales), and Snoop Dogg (+29% in week-over-week streams).

Who’s set to gain from appearing in season two? Announced guests so far include Ludacris, Alicia Keys, and Lenny Kravitz.

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