Nielsen: Women remain underrepresented in TV programming

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Brands can spark change by demanding to invest more in representative content.

In spite of the recent success of shows created by and starring females, women continue to be underrepresented in television programming, according to new data from Nielsen released on Thursday. 

While shows such as Killing Eve and Fleabag, from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and PEN15,  from Maya Erskine and Anna Conkle,  have received critical acclaim, women only received a 43% share of screen and 42% share of casting in U.S. television programming in 2021, according to Nielsen. 

Brands can help women achieve equitable representation by advertising more in inclusive media, a press release from Nielsen states. 

“As the media industry seeks to break barriers on- and offscreen, it is our hope that this data will drive greater on-screen inclusion and provide guidance to publishers and marketers who are seeking to invest in more inclusive content,” Imran Hirani, Nielsen vice president of media and advertiser analytics, stated in an email to Campaign. 

But in 2021, only 31% of shows measured by Nielsen represented women at a fair share. 

Ryan Murphy’s show Pose, an FX drama about New York’s drag ball culture, is an example of inclusive programming because 50% of the cast are women, but “more impressive, Murphy really considers the intersectional identities of individuals,” Hirani states.

Forty percent of the cast are Black women; 10% are Latina; and 10% are non-binary.

“Murphy is very purposeful in his quest for representation with his initiative called ‘Half,’ which seeks to award women and minorities half of the roles in his work,” Hirani stated.

Nielsen also analyzed marketers’ spending and found that the average brand invested about 30% of its measured budget in gender inclusive programming. Thirty-one percent of healthcare and consumer packaged goods advertising is placed in such programming. Electronics and dining invested the least in inclusive programming among the industries studied, at only 23%. 

Hirani said the gender gaps in representation and advertising on television are partly due to the fact that the ability to measure representation in such content is relatively new. For example, Nielsen launched its Gracenote Inclusion Analytics service in the first half of 2021 and its Inclusive Ad Spend measurement product in the last quarter of the year. 

“Since new series can take a long time to produce, it may take a while to get from the awareness of the issue to the time the changes in approach show up on the screen,” Hirani said. “Representation by share of screen is an important quantitative aspect of measurement, but so is the quality of representation — what stories are being told, the types of characters women playing, and which actresses are playing them.”

Brands can spur media companies to better represent women in programming by demanding “more representative content,” Hirani added.

“Representative content is good for marketers,” Hirani stated. “Just as representation in their ad copy makes their commercials more attractive, representation in the programming that those ads run in also makes the ads more attractive.”

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