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Television is embracing diversity, and the Emmys reflect it

Actor Anthony Anderson and actress Tracee Ellis Ross
Jason LaVeris | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Actor Anthony Anderson and actress Tracee Ellis Ross

If this year's Academy Awards were pelted by critics for being "Oscars so white," the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards may earn the catchphrase "Emmys so colorful," based on the diversity of the nominees and winners.

The 68th annual television award ceremony which aired Sunday treated audiences to one of the most racially diverse set of nominees in recent years. It also marks the first time that actors of color have appeared in every leading actor category.

Several took home Emmys on Sunday including Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek and African-American actors Regina King, Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance.

Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the African-American comedy duo behind Key & Peele also took home an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Show.

In addition, winners in the writing categories included Asian-American writer and actor Alan Yang and Indian-American writer, actor and comedian Aziz Ansari, who took home an Emmy for Best Comedy Writing for penning an episode of Netflix's "Master of None."

"There's 17 million Asian Americans in this country, and there are 17 million Italian Americans — they have 'The Godfather,' 'Goodfellas,' 'Rocky,' 'The Sopranos' — we got Long Duk Dong," Yang said during his acceptance speech. "So we've got a long way to go but I think we can get there."

The surge of more equal representation in television has captured not only the attention of critics and audiences, but advertisers as well. The broader scope of diversity on screen also boosts the breadth of diversity of viewers, some argue, which is something coveted by ad firms seeking to reach key demographics.

"Advertisers want to jump on board," Jorge Granier, executive producer of "Jane the Virgin," a show featuring a Latina lead actress, told CNBC in a recent interview. The show's narrator, Anthony Mendez, was up for an Emmy award this year.

"Latinos are the fast growing demographic in the United States, it's a huge audience," Granier added. "They have great purchasing power, they create trends, they are early adopters."

And they aren't the only ones, according to Granier who co-founded Latin Everywhere and Pongalo — content platforms for Spanish-speaking and bilingual audiences.

"Likewise with the African American community, which is a very large and powerful demographic, that can signify quite a change in a large company's bottom line," he said. "So, by targeting a broader audience, by being more inclusive, your business is going to grow, your business is going to succeed."

Granier's partner Rich Hull told CNBC that the Latino community collectively has about $1.6 trillion in buying power and they aren't afraid to spend it.

"We realize that the Latino market is drastically under-served," Hull said. "They over-index for mobile devices, they over-consume entertainment [and] they have money to spend… so, it's shocking that they are so under-served when it comes to media in general, but really digital media."

Hull also noted that the African American community spends 37 percent more time watching television than any other ethnic group, making the silver screen a prime location for advertisers to tap into.

"Emmys, they have a broader range of input. So of course, you can be more diverse. Oscars are narrowed down to, 'Okay. What turned us on?'" -Morgan Freeman, Actor, co-founder, Revelations Entertainment

Katie Elmore Mota, founder of Wise Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based production company that focuses on creating edgy and socially relevant content, told CNBC that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have discovered that their audiences "weren't just rich white men."

Those platforms have attracted shows and audiences of a diverse nature, she added, and advertisers have followed suit.

"Advertisers know that in order to keep reaching to audiences and speaking to them in a meaningful way...it is really important to have content that connects to them," Mota said.

Mota's production company is behind the successful Hulu show "East Los High," which follows a group of Latino teens living in East Los Angeles. She said that it would have been difficult to get the show produced on network television four years ago, given a perception that non-white shows did not have mass appeal for audiences.

"East Los High," "Orange Is the New Black" and Amazon's original series"Transparent" have been popularized on streaming platforms.

However, shows like "Black-ish," "Empire," "How to Get Away with Murder," "Mr. Robot," "Quantico," "Jane the Virgin" and "Off the Boat," among others have set a new standard for prime-time television.

Meanwhile, a new comedy show featuring two African-American leads had the highest rated premiere of any basic cable prime-time scripted comedy in more than three years.

"Atlanta," a FX show about two cousins immersed in the Atlanta rap scene, drew 1.8 million viewers, including DVR replays, according to Vulture.

"On the one hand you have a mandate to create diversity or inclusion and I look at that as casting people on TV shows and movies in a way that makes the whole cast looks likes it mirrors the whole country," Hull said.

"The other part is really more about finding audience that are underserved and deserved to be served better and then creating businesses around serving them," he added, pointing to the launch of Black Entertainment Television decades ago, as an example.

The trend shows no signs of abating. On Sept. 21, ABC's "Speechless" premieres. The show centers around a family with three children, one of which has cerebral palsy. Micah Fowler, a young actor who has cerebral palsy, stars in the new comedy.

Oscars still 'so white'

The scene is different, however, in the film industry, observers say. Products take anywhere from three to five years or more to be produced, filmed, edited and released.

By the time the movie comes out in theaters "all the decisions have been made and committed to," Granier told CNBC.

He attributes the time-consuming process to why film has yet to catch up to viewers diversity demands, and why the Academy Awards did not feature a more inclusive set of nominees this year.

"Emmys, they have a broader range of input," Morgan Freeman, actor and co-founder of Revelations Entertainment, told CNBC's Binge, recently. "So of course, you can be more diverse. Oscars are narrowed down to, 'Okay. What turned us on?'"

There are around 20,000 Television Academy members that vote for the Emmys, allowing for more diverse viewpoints and backgrounds. In contrast, there are only about 6,000 Oscar voters.

Similarly, while there were more than 400 scripted television shows produced in 2015, only 122 films were widely released, according to comScore. The number of wide released films, those that open in 1,000 theaters or more, has declined in the last decade, down from 151 in 2006.

Freeman's producing partner, Lori McCreary, referred to the Academy Awards as "the end of the line," in that same interview. She said that Revelations Entertainment, which produces "Madam Secretary," is looking to make changes at the beginning of the line in both the cast and crew of productions.

McCreary noted that it can take a long time to get a film green lit, but once the financing comes in, the production has to start and fast.

Jeffrey Tambor, who has took home his second Emmys for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman, ended his acceptance speech on Sunday asking Hollywood to "give transgender talent a chance."

"I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television," he said. "We have work to do."