Women and People of Color Led Streaming Viewership, Box Office Sales in 2023, UCLA Study Says

It turns out that women aren’t just driving box office viewership. They’re also driving streaming viewership, according to a new UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report.

Earlier this year, the organization found that women and people of color dominated box office sales for the top 20 movies of 2023, the year of “Barbenheimer.”

The same held true of streaming titles. Nine of the top 10 streaming movies of 2023 were largely watched by women and households of color, which overrepresented viewership. Additionally, when it came to 17 of the top 20 streaming movies by viewership, women represented the majority of viewers.

When it came to nine of the top 10 streaming movies of 2023 and 18 of the top 20 movies, households of color exceeded their population share and were overrepresented as viewers. For example, 55.9% of viewers for the Jennifer Lopez movie “The Mother” were households of color as were 50% of the audience for the Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy comedy “You People.”

“Women and people of color are key audiences that simply cannot be ignored by Hollywood,” Ana-Christina Ramón, co-founder of the report and director of UCLA’s Entertainment and Media Research Initiative, said in a statement. “Once again, we found that successful streaming films are propelled to the top by households of color. And, among the highest-rated films, women are the majority of the viewers.”

The report also showed that women and people of color have found more opportunities in streaming versus theatrical. The number of streaming movies made by directors of color was 31% in 2023 compared to the 22.9% seen for theatrical movies. The gap between the two was even more distinct for women directors. Women directed 31% of streaming movies in 2023, compared to the 14.7% of theatrical movies that were directed by women. That 31% is an increase from the 25% seen in 2022.

“Creators that represent diverse backgrounds face a mixed bag,” study co-author and UCLA doctoral candidate Michael Tran said in a statement. “On one hand, they have a chance to lead or participate in these streaming projects, but then the studios are putting on the brakes financially and there is less room to show success.”

The report found that white women were the most likely to have the smallest budgets and that 84.2% of their films came in under $20 million. Women directors overall saw a $50 million budget ceiling. Big budget movies of $100 million or more continued to be dominated by white men.

In front of the screen, there was also a boost. For the first time in the history of this report, the amount of leading roles for actors of color reflected the current population. Actors of color accounted for 45% of leads in streaming films versus 33.3% in 2022.

Women in leading roles increased from 48.5% in 2022 to 51% in 2023. However, women part of the overall cast fell to 40.8%, compared to 44% in 2022. Speaking of casts, films with a majority diverse cast accounted for more than a third of streaming films in 2023 (35%). That’s up nearly 10% from 2022’s figure of 25.3%.

Despite this boost, white men continued to have most opportunity to star in a streaming film with bigger budgets. Over half of them (57.2%) starred in projects of $20 million or more. The majority of streaming movies led by white women (77.5%) and people of color (58.6%) had budgets under $20 million.

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