Streamers Put More Women in Charge of TV Shows Than Broadcast Networks, Study Finds

As the entertainment industry looks to improve the ratio of female representation in television on screen and behind the scenes, a study finds that the youngest streaming services have made more progress than broadcast networks that have been around for decades.

That’s one of the conclusion of this year’s “Boxed In” survey, an annual report on female employment in television by Martha Lauzen, executive director of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

The latest edition of the long-running industry report card finds that in the 2020-21 television season, women accounted for 30% of creators, 31% of directors and 24% of editors on streaming programs, versus 22% of creators, 19% of directors, and 15% of editors on broadcast network programs. In front of the camera, 52% of major characters on streaming programs were women, while networks trailed behind with 45%.

“Streamers get a lot of credit for offering more progressive programming, and that reputation is, in part, well deserved,” said Lauzen. “It’s frustrating to see that women’s representation on broadcast network programs has moved only a few percentage points over the last 15 years.”

The Boxed In survey is based on one randomly selected episode of scripted series that aired during the 2020-2021 TV season on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW and streaming platforms Amazon, Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount Plus and Peacock. As such, the data is not comprehensive across the broad U.S. television landscape, but it is directional.

Lauzen’s research is among the most significant long-term work ever undertaken on gender equity in media and entertainment. The “Boxed In” series began in the 1997-98 TV season and has scrutinized more than 50,000 characters and more than 63,000 production credits during its 24-year (and counting) run. Lauzen’s team also put the microscope to feature film releases on an annual basis with a separate study dubbed Celluloid Ceiling. 

The “Boxed In’ study found that while streamers have better track records on gender parity for women in production overall, broadcast networks had a slightly higher percentage of female characters overall. On streamers, 20% of female characters were Black and 6% were Latina, while broadcast networks averaged 23% Black women and 8% Latinas. But 11% of female characters on streaming programs were Asian, compared to 9% on the networks.

And while streamers continue to put more women in charge than networks do, they aren’t doing so as much as they did a year ago. In 2019-2020, streamers employed women in 35% of key behind-the-scenes positions. That number dropped to 33% in 2020-2021. Broadcast networks increased their employment of women behind the scenes slightly, moving from 30% to 31%.

Older women are another group often forgotten by the small screen. Characters above age 60 are rarely female — a meager 4% on networks and 3% on streamers.

Among other findings from the “Boxed In” study:

  • 58% of all female characters in speaking roles (not only major characters) were white, 22% were Black, 7% were Latina, 10% were Asian, 1% were MENA, less than 1% were Native American, 1% were multiracial/multiethnic and less than 1% were of some other race or ethnicity
  • 61% of all male characters in speaking roles were white, 23% were Black, 7% were Latino, 6% were Asian, 1% were MENA, less than 1% were multiracial/multiethnic, less than 1% were Native American and 1% were of some other race or ethnicity
  • Non-binary and transgender characters accounted for 0.5% of speaking roles on streamers and 0.4% on networks
  • 29% of non-binary and transgender characters in speaking roles were white, 43% were Black, 21% were Latinx, and 7% were Asian.
  • 17% of all females in speaking roles were children or teens, 18% were in their 20s, 35% were in their 30s, 17% were in their 40s, 9% were in their 50s and 3% were 60 or older.

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