Women, BIPOC Remain Underrepresented on TV, Nielsen Study Finds

Nielsen's 2020 TV Inclusion Report
Courtesy of Nielsen's 2020 TV Inclusion Report

A study by Nielsen found that women and people of color are underrepresented on television relative to their share of the overall population.

The study by the ratings service looked at not just how many people from various identity groups are cast on TV series, but how often and how long they appear. That metric, which Nielsen calls Share of Screen, shows that women and people of color fall short of their real-world population numbers on screen.

Women, for example, make up 52 percent of the population of the United States but only received 38 percent of screen time on the top 300 shows on broadcast and cable networks and streaming platforms in 2019. People of color represent 39.5 percent of the total population but just under 27 percent in the Share of Screen metric.

"At Nielsen, we believe that the audience is everything and that inclusion is a prerequisite of a healthy media ecosystem, ensuring all communities and individuals are heard and seen," said Tina Wilson, executive vp media analytics and marketing outcomes at Nielsen. "The call for inclusive programming that breaks traditional stereotypes and gives a voice to underrepresented groups has never been louder."

Among intersectional groups — e.g., Black men, LGBTQ women and Hispanic/Latinx men — people who had on-screen representation in line with or above their percentage of the overall population overwhelmingly tended to be male. On broadcast programming, for instance, only Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander females were represented above their population level.

White characters of any gender have an 81 percent Share of Screen across all platforms, the study found, while making up only 60.5 percent of the population as a whole.

Black and Asian people are represented in proportion with their percentages of the U.S. population, though the study notes that Black women lag behind Black men, particularly in news and LGBTQ-themed programming. Hispanic/Latinx representation, however, is poor, with just a 5.5 percent Share of Screen across all platforms despite making up almost 19 percent of the total U.S. population. Latinx people are most visible on streaming, where they have a 10.1 percent Share of Screen, per Nielsen.

Nielsen calculated its Share of Screen by looking at the top 10 recurring cast members by identity group for shows that aired in 2019, multiplied by the number of episodes people belonging to that group appeared in. It then multiplying that by the total viewing minutes for that program for the year. Percentages add up to more than 100 as one person could be counted in multiple identity groups.