“Historic Highs” For Women Employed Behind The Scenes On Streaming Shows, Study Finds

Shows made for streaming services are much more likely to employ women in front of and behind the cameras than programs made for cable and network television, according to a new report.

“The gains demonstrate that streamers are outpacing both the broadcast networks and cable channels in hiring key behind-the-scenes women and in telling stories from a female perspective,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, founder and executive director of San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

The latest “Boxed In” report, now in its 23rd year, found that women reached “historic highs” as creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography on original programs featured on streaming services. The gains made by women working as directors and directors of photography on streaming shows “were particularly impressive,” the report found, with the percentage of women working as directors soaring from 15% in 2018-19, to 32% in 2019-20, and the percentage of women working as directors of photography rising from 3% in 2018-19 to 17% this year.

The report found that on streaming programs in 2019-20, women accounted for 42% of producers; 41% of writers; 35% of executive producers; 33% of creators, and 27% of editors – all recent historic highs.

By contrast, the report found that the percentages of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles on programs from the broadcast networks and cable channels “remained stagnant or declined slightly.”

Even so, the report found that on broadcast network shows, the number of women employed as creators, writers and executive producers reached also “recent historic highs” during the 2020-19 season. They accounted for 26% of creators, which was up one percentage point from the previous year; 31% of executive producers, which was up two percentage points from the prior season, and 36% of writers, an increase of one percentage point. The number of female directors and producers of network broadcast shows, however, declined by four percentage points each – to 36% of producers and 26% of directors.

Women producers, directors and creators of premium and basic cable shows also reached recent historic highs this season, with women accounting for 43% of these shows’ producers – up three percentage points from the previous season; 37% of directors – an increase of nine percentage points, and 26% of creators – an increase of four percentage points from the prior year. The number of women editing these shows, however, hit a “recent historic low,” falling to 16% – down from 22% the year before.

The report also found that women are far more likely to be seen as protagonists on streaming shows than on cable or network programs. The report found that 42% of streaming programs had clearly identifiable sole female protagonists, while only 27% of cable programs, and 24% of broadcast programs, featured female protagonists. For the purposes of the study, protagonists are the characters from whose perspective the story is told.

With regard to race and ethnicity, across all platforms the percentage of Black female characters increased from 17% in 2018-19 to 20% in 2019-20; the percentage of Asian females increased from 7% to 8% this season, while the percentage of Latinas decreased from 6% to 5% in 2019-20. “Latinas remain dramatically underrepresented when compared to their representation in the U.S. population.”

Considering broadcast network programs only, the percentage of Black female characters has more than doubled over the last decade – rising from 12% to 26% – and the percentage of Asian females has increased from 5% to 8%, but the percentage of Latina characters has remained unchanged at 5%. The report does not provide data on Native Americans.

Across all platforms during the 2019-20 season, women accounted for 31% of those working in key behind-the scenes positions – creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography, which was the same percentage as in 2018-19. They accounted for 35% of these key positions on streaming shows; 31% on cable programs, and 30% on broadcast shows.

Other findings across all platforms include:

•Programs employed relatively low numbers of women behind the scenes. 63% of programs employed five or fewer women in the behind-the-scenes roles considered, while only 16% of programs employed five or fewer men.

•Overall, women fared best as producers (39%), followed by writers (36%), executive producers (32%), directors (30%), creators (28%), editors (17%), and directors of photography (8%).

•“Startlingly high” percentages of programs employed no women in the behind-the-scenes roles considered. 94% of the programs considered had no women directors of photography, 81% had no women editors, 76% had no women directors, and 73% had no women creators.

•Programs with at least one woman creator employed substantially greater percentages of women in other key behind-the-scenes roles and featured more female characters than programs with exclusively male creators. For example, on programs with at least one woman creator, women accounted for 69% of writers versus 20% on programs with no women creators.

•Programs with at least one woman executive producer also featured more female protagonists, and more women in other key behind-the-scenes positions, than programs with exclusively male executive producers. For example, on programs with at least one woman executive producer, women accounted for 39% of writers. On programs with exclusively male executive producers, women comprised 12% of writers.

•Overall, female characters were younger than males. The majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s (58%), whereas the majority of male characters were in their 30s and 40s (53%).

•Female characters experienced a precipitous decline from their 30s to their 40s. 35% of females were in their 30s but only 18% were in their 40s. Male characters also experienced a decline in numbers but it was not as dramatic. 29% of male characters were in their 30s but 24% were in their 40s.

•30% of female characters, but 45% of males, were 40 and older.

•While few characters age into their 60s and beyond, male characters were more likely than females to fall into this age group. 8% of male characters but only 3% of females were 60 or older.

•Viewers were more likely to know the occupational status of male characters than female characters. 75% of male characters and 65% of female characters had an identifiable occupation.

•Males were more likely than females to be seen at work and actually working. 57% of male characters and 47% of females were seen in their work setting, actually working.

The report examined the portrayal of female characters and employment of women in key behind-the-scenes roles on drama, comedy, and reality programs appearing on the broadcast networks, basic and premium cable channels, and on streaming services from September 2019 through May 2020.

The methodology involved looking at one randomly selected episode of series appearing on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW); basic cable channels (A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Bravo, Discovery, Disney, E, Freeform, FX, HGTV, History, Nickelodeon, TBS, TLC, TNT, USA); premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime), and streaming services (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+).

In 2019-20, the study tracked over 4,100 characters and more than 4,200 behind-the-scenes credits. Over 23 years – from 1997-98 to 2019-20 – Boxed In has monitored over 47,000 characters and more than 59,000 behind-the-scenes credits. Information on behind-the-scenes credits and on-screen portrayals was collected by viewing every episode in the sample one or more times in its entirety. The study considers the following behind-the-scenes credits: creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography. Every character who was seen speaking at least one line was included in the study.

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