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The gender balance in European TV shows

European TV is still a men’s business but with improvements

“If she can see it, she can be it”, is the slogan for US-based Geena Davis Institute arguing that women in leading film roles is a tool for gender equality. A new study of European TV fiction shows that this business has quite a long way to go before reaching gender balance, but there are improvements. The share of female professionals ranges from less than 10%, for composers and cinematographers, to over 40%, for producers and lead roles. 37% of TV fiction episodes were written by female writers but only 22% directed by female directors.

“The low share of women in these key roles results from a multiplication of factors: typically, for directors, the low share of women results from fewer female directors active in TV production, who work less often than their male counterparts, and are more often than male in a team of directors than being the sole creator of the work. Moreover, teams are more often male-driven”, says the report from the European Audiovisual Observatory. The observatory is part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and the report is based on numbers from 2021 to 2015.

In 2021, women accounted for 45% of actors in a lead role in audiovisual fiction titles, quite stable since 2015. 

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There was at least one woman among the lead roles of 93% of audiovisual fiction episodes and TV films. Female and male actors were equally involved in co-playing leading roles in audiovisual fiction titles. Mixed teams were mainly gender-balanced or with a male majority.

Female directors represented 26% of audiovisual fiction episodes and TV films in Europe in 2021, up from 16% in 2015. 

On average, women (co)directed fewer episodes than men and they were less likely to be the sole director of a work. For these reasons, the weighted average share of female directors in audiovisual fiction was lower, at 22% (up from 17% in 2015). 

23% of all directors active in audiovisual fiction between 2015 and 2021 were women. The share of women among all active directors of audiovisual fiction has constantly increased since 2015, the report shows. This share was slightly higher for series with 14 to 52 episodes per season.

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Women were involved in the direction (i.e. directed or co-directed) of 20% of all TV films or fiction episodes released between 2015 and 2020. When involved, female directors co-directed more often than their male counterparts.

In 2021, women were 39% of active writers of audiovisual fiction in Europe (up from 34% in 2015). 

On the one hand, each female (co)wrote more episodes than males, but they were less often the sole writer of an episode. Therefore the weighted share of female writers of audiovisual fiction was lower than the share of women among active writers, at 37% (up from 33% in 2015). Female writers were proportionally more likely than male colleagues to co-write audiovisual fiction and when they did, it was often within teams with a male majority.

In 2021, women accounted for 45% of all active producers of European TV films and high-end TV series, up from 39% in 2015. Women produced on average a similar number of episodes to men and were the sole producers of TV titles almost as often as their male counterparts. 

In 2021, women accounted for just 9% of all cinematographers (directors of photography) of European audiovisual fiction but this was up from 6% in 2015.

Women accounted for 9% of all composers of European TV films and series in 2021, up from 5% in 2015.

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