Streaming TV Shows Have ‘Substantially More’ Female Protagonists Than Broadcast or Cable, New Study Finds

Latest “Boxed In” study by SDSU’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film notes nearly half of streaming shows (42%) were told from a female perspective

When it comes to female representation, both in front of and behind the camera, streaming provides “substantially more” opportunities compared to its broadcast and cable counterparts.

According to the latest “Boxed In” report released Thursday by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, 42% of streaming shows featured a female protagonist — defined as the perspective that the story is told through — compared to 27% on cable and 24% on broadcast. On streaming, it was just as likely a show would feature a female in the lead role as a male protagonist, the latter of which was also featured in 42% of streaming shows; 16% shows on streaming were considered to have ensembles.

Across platforms, 29% of all programs featured clearly identifiable sole female protagonists, 37% had male protagonists, and 33% feature ensembles.

The percentage of female directors on streaming also more than doubled from 15% in 2018-19 to 32% in 2019-20. Women working as directors of photography saw a particularly large increase from 3% to 17%. However, 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.

“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,” according to Martha Lauzen, the Center’s executive director.

Regarding race and ethnicity, across platforms the percentage of Black female characters increased slightly (from 17% in 2018-19 to 20% in 2019-20), the percentage of Asian females increased slightly (from 7% in 2018-19 to 8% in 2019-20), and the percentage of Latinas decreased slightly (from 6% in 2018-19 to 5% in 2019-20).

Now in its 23rd year, the study provides the most comprehensive historical record of women’s representation and employment in television available. The full study can be found here.