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Women make up 52% of the U.S. population – but only are only visible on screen 38% of the time, according to a new report from Nielsen out Thursday.
The report, “Being Seen on Screen: Diverse Representation and Inclusion on TV,” measured minutes on screen as a metric for inclusion, unlike other diversity studies by GLAAD and UCLA that measure the number of diverse actors.
Nielsen conducted the study by analyzing episodes of the top 100 broadcast, streaming and cable programs during 2019, and comparing representation of identity groups on screen to population data. The study included both scripted and unscripted series, and news, but did not include sports, animation and movies.
Women 50 and older make up 20% of the population and 20% of all TV viewers – but their share of screen time is less than 8%. Men over 50, on the other hand, represent 17% of the population and 14% of screen time. Women are not represented well in any genre, the report found, but were seen most often in science fiction, drama, comedy and horror.
There was a huge disparity for Hispanics and Latinos, who were largely underrepresented on screens. While the group accounts for nearly 19% of the U.S. population, it claims just 5.5% of screen time, the study says, although the representation improved on streaming services compared to other platforms.
Other groups saw variations across platforms.
“Streaming video had less representation of Asian women, and a higher representation of African American women,” Stacie de Armas, senior vice president of diverse insights and initiatives at Nielsen, tells USA TODAY.
Overall, Asian and Black people’s share of screen time was nearly on par or above population estimates, de Armas says. Black people, who make up 14% of the population, had the largest share of screen time than any racial minority group at 18%.
Native Americans have extremely low representation onscreen. Even though Native American women are about 0.8% of the population, their highest share of screen is 0.4% on streaming.
“What this data shows is that there’s still opportunity to feature Native American men and women in our television programming,” Charlene Polite Corley, vice president of diverse insights and partnerships at Nielsen, said during a presentation about the report on Thursday.
But share of screen time for the LGBTQ community is 7% – a strong showing since this group makes up 4.5% of the population. LGBTQ people have higher representation in news, reality and horror programming, and on streaming and cable.
About one-third of cable content does not have proportional representation for many different identity groups, including women, Black people, Hispanic/Latino people, the LGBTQ community and Indigenous people.
Peter Giannikopoulos and Tayshia Adams on “The Bachelorette.” (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)
The sharp increase in TV content – with shows on broadcast, cable and streaming – has led to more representation of diverse identity groups. People are looking for shows that tell their stories, and are shifting to platforms where they can see themselves onscreen in shows, according to Nielsen.
“Even with all the work that has been done to improve gender equity on screen – there are so many players that have done so much work – unfortunately, women are still underrepresented,” de Armas says.
Nielsen is making public its data on identity group representation by platform and genre at nielsen.com/inclusionanalytics.
‘When people see themselves on screen, what are they seeing?’
Beyond data points, the report also gave insight into what the quality of representation was when the share of screen time matched their presence in the population.
“What we were trying to drill down to is to understand when people see themselves on screen, what are they seeing?” de Armas says.
Storylines for certain demographic groups appeared to align with stereotypes about them, according to de Armas, “but we hope that these findings will inspire content producers to be more thoughtful in where they cast people of color and stories they tell – so they can reflect the complexity of identity.”
“There was a lot to explore here, but we think it’s incredibly important to peel these layers back and better understand the content in which people are seeing themselves and how that informs their identity,” de Armas added in the presentation.
For Black women, when their screen time percentage matched their percentage of the population, narratives onscreen were more likely to involve personal relationships, sons, investigation and rivalry. In the case of Black men, narratives were about investigation, streets and pursuit.
White women were more likely to be seen in narratives involving friendship, family, love, husbands and daughters. Latina women’s narratives were more likely to be connected with police stations, dysfunction and melodrama.
De Armas says that the industry is working to be more inclusive , but at the same time, “the themes in which people are presented and the narratives are incredibly important. These are, in many ways, mechanisms for identity development. And as people are watching this content, it helps people understand what they can be, who they can be, and what other people are like.”
“What we want to do is broaden people’s understanding of what diversity on screen looks like by presenting as many identity groups and what their relative representation is on screen as we could,” de Armas adds.
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