Representation has been an ongoing conversation in Hollywood and one that rightfully demands continued attention. Part of that conversation includes the fact that if viewing audiences are of interest to advertisers and publishers, then more TV networks will likely invest in a specific type of programming. This begs the question: who are the viewers that are soaking up female-led content and are they a target audience for advertisers?
In March 2020, Samba TV did an analysis on female-led programming, where we gathered insights on who was consuming this content and how that may be changing as the industry addresses gender representation. According to stats from the advocacy group Women in Hollywood, gender diversification among casts in TV shows did not improve in 2020. Women comprised 40% of major characters in TV shows during 2018, 45% in 2019, and, unfortunately, 45% again in 2020. Only 65% of female characters in 2020 had identifiable occupations, compared to 75% of male characters, and down slightly from 66% in 2019.
What is causing this plateau and why now? Are studios shying away from increasing the representation of female characters? In order to investigate these questions, Samba TV devised another research study analyzing the audience make-up of TV shows in 2020 that featured female leads. The research study drew data from 18 diverse TV shows, selected to provide variety in content type and platform (broadcast, cable, and streaming).
Between 2019 and 2020, the results remained largely consistent. In fact, the people watching female-led programs aren’t necessarily who you might expect. For example, the split between male and female viewers was extremely close, at 49% male and 51% female. The split narrowed even further among the broadcast and cable comedies that were surveyed, with an even percentage of male and female audiences tuning in.
Additionally, viewers of all ages are tuning in to female-led programs, with the age buckets (25-34, 35-44, 45-54, and 55-65) each representing similar fractions of the audience, at 12%-13% a piece.
A compelling takeaway for publishers is that female-led programming is often consumed by high-earning households, compared to the U.S. overall. Relative to their proportion within the population, households earning $150k-$200k over-indexed by 5% on the shows surveyed. Narrowing the focus to streaming shows specifically, households within that income group over-indexed by 14%, and households earning $200k+ over-indexed on viewership by 34%.
However, when looking at the demographics of audiences tuning in to female-led programs, households with a white viewer over-indexed by 8%, while households with Black, Hispanic, and Asian viewers all under-indexed on this type of content.
With regard to whether these audiences consume a large amount of linear programming or if they’ve shifted to other programming like streaming, Samba TV found that female-led programming captures the attention of households in flux, with “Transitional TV Viewers”, or households that average 3 hours of linear TV per day, representing the bulk of the audience (42%). An additional 20% of the audience qualified as “Modern TV Viewers” (21 minutes of linear TV viewership per day), highlighting that these viewers spend limited time on linear TV, making the airtime of shows they do watch particularly valuable.
With these results in mind, we can conclude that viewers of female-led programs represent a compelling and diverse group for advertisers. If the under representation is driven by advertisers shying away from this airtime, they’re making a mistake. The viewers of shows like Killing Eve, The Undoing, Euphoria, and others with a female lead are a key income group for ad revenue, difficult to reach on linear TV, and are just as likely to be male or female and young or old.
Whether the plateau of female characters on TV is rooted in bias, false notions of who’s watching the shows, or simply the inexplicability of 2020, one thing’s clear - it certainly isn’t rooted in data. Let’s hope 2021 is different from 2020 in many respects, and that female representation in TV is one of them.