Streaming Shows Have More Major Female Characters Than Broadcast TV, Study Finds
During the 2020-21 TV season, a study found that streaming companies put more women in positions of creative power than broadcast networks did, though broadcasters featured slightly more women as major characters in their shows. But a year later, that same study has found that streamers now beat out networks on both fronts by slight margins.
The study, titled “Boxed In,” has been run by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, for 25 years now. Lauzen also conducts the yearly studies “Celluloid Ceiling” and “Thumbs Down: Gender and Film Critics, and Why It Matters.” Boxed In” considers one randomly selected episode of different series appearing on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW) during primetime and streaming services (Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock). In 2021-22, the study tracked over 3,000 characters and more than 3,800 production credits, adding to a total of over 53,000 characters and 66,000 credits since the study began during the 1997-98 TV season.
This year’s study showed that 50% of major characters on streaming shows were women, versus 48% on networks. When analyzing for all speaking roles, streamers were at 47% representation for women while broadcasters had 45%.
When analyzing for both gender and race, streamers and broadcasters had differing levels of broadcast. 28% of streaming shows feature Black women as major characters, and 7% feature Latinas as major characters, compared to 21% and 3%, but streamers feature Asian women in major roles 15% of the time versus 10% on broadcast.
Age is another factor in the disproportionate representation of women. “As women in the real world reach their 40s, they gain personal and professional power, yet it’s precisely at this age that the numbers of females dwindle on television and in film,” Lauzen said. “The majority of media images normalize regressive ideas about gender and age, valuing females for their youth and beauty and males for their accomplishments.”
According to Boxed In, on streaming shows, 42% of major female characters are in their 30s while only 15% are in their 40s. Broadcasters followed suit, with 33% in their 30s and 14% in their 40s.
Behind the scenes, streaming programs employed higher percentages of women than broadcast network programs. The report found that women comprised 37% of individuals working in key behind-the-scenes roles on streaming programs but 31% on broadcast network programs. This includes creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers.
More specifically, women accounted for 38% of executive producers on streaming programs versus 29% on broadcast programs. Women comprised 29% of directors working on streaming programs but 18% on broadcast programs.
Boxed In summarizes the findings of a content analysis of characters and behind-the-scenes credits on dramas, comedies, and reality television programs. In 2021-22, the study tracked over 3,000 characters and more than 3,800 behind-the-scenes credits. Over the last 25 years — from 1997-98 to 2021-22 — the study has monitored over 53,000 characters and more than 66,000 behind-the-scenes credits. The study provides the most comprehensive historical record of women’s representation and employment in television available.
When it comes to creative control, streamers were found to employ women in 37% of key roles (creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers) versus 31% at broadcast networks. When analyzing each individual position of power, streamers had better gender parity for creators, directors, executive producers and producers, while broadcasters employed more women as writers, editors and cinematographers: At streamers, women make up 30% of creators, 29% of directors, 30% of writers, 38% of executive producers, 47% of producers, 22% of editors and 11% of cinematographers. At networks, women were 29% of creators, 18% of directors, 36% of writers, 29% of executive producers, 42% of producers, 23% of editors and 16% of cinematographers.
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