Women Led Television Programming Continues to Grow; And Everyone is Watching


Katherine Sicienski
Senior Research Manager
Mar 5, 2020

According to the advocacy group Women in Hollywood, the number of female television characters increased in 2019 with women comprising 44% of characters on broadcast programs, 45% of characters on cable programs, and 45% of characters on streaming programs.  Overall, women held 45% of major character roles across all platforms.  

These numbers largely mirror motion picture data from The Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television that found women led feature films increased by nearly 30% in 2019 with 4 out of 10 movies featuring a female lead. According to the report the number of women led protagonists in films reached near parity with men, a historic first in their annual reviews.

These increases come at a time when new data highlights the broad appeal female led programming has with audiences.  Ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8th), Samba TV conducted an analysis comparing the audience make-up of 18 female led televisions shows across both the drama and comedy categories.  The data paints an important picture about which demographics are drawn to female led shows that challenge many historical preconceptions. 

The audience analysis measured viewership insights for the following 18 shows that were selected to provide both content diversity (comedy versus drama) as well as platform diversity (network tv, cable etc.) 

Viewership data across the 18 shows found that despite many common assumptions, female led programming audiences closely match the US population when it comes to gender with a near even split of male and female viewers tuning in.  

Samba TV’s US television panel data, which is 100 times larger than legacy measurement services, was able to look beyond just gender and age to uncover unique attributes of the audiences that are drawn to female led shows. 

Women-led content over-indexed in attracting viewers in households making over $100K, for example.    

While gender make-up mirrors the US, minority viewership of female led programming significantly over-indexes the national average.  The share of African American households watching female led drama programming for example is 12% higher than their share of the overall universe.   

The insights from the Samba analysis provide a blueprint for marketers seeking to engage audiences on these programs as well as for content distributors marketing their shows. For marketers the take-aways are clear: Female led programming is widely popular, cutting across all age groups and equally indexing female and male audiences, skewing to a higher household income and reaching deeply into minority homes.

For distributors looking to market their programs to build audience reach the lessons are equally clear. First, programs should not limit their marketing reach to traditionally “female” content as the potential audience is much broader.  In fact, not a single show from a “female-skewing” network like Bravo, E!, Hallmark, or Oxygen comprised even 10% of the audience for any one of the 18 female led shows analyzed. In short, focusing marketing efforts on “traditional” female platforms like Bravo misses the mark significantly, leaving out millions of potential viewers who would be attracted to the programming. 

Samba TV’s analysis proves that the viewership for shows led by women are not nearly as homogenous as the ads promoting them suggest. As we head into the UpFronts later this year with so many new shows featuring female leads, it’s essential that networks and advertisers take a comprehensive approach to using data to truly understand their real audiences.

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