Published on: 20 September 2018 in Campaigns

Adjusting the Colour Balance: A report on BAME representation among directors working in UK TV

Reading time: 13 minutes and 15 seconds

Today Directors UK launches its new report on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) directorial representation in UK television. We reveal that despite some negligible improvement over the last few years, BAME directors still face chronic levels of under-representation and under-employment.

In 2015, Directors UK issued its first ever report on BAME directorial representation. In it, we revealed just how few of the television programmes we watch are directed by BAME directors. We also highlighted the fact that some of the most popular drama, comedy and entertainment shows had never been directed by someone of BAME origin.

Since we published those findings, broadcasters have made bold statements of intent and publicised wide-ranging diversity and inclusion strategies. Meanwhile, Directors UK has been campaigning to ensure that these commitments translate into positive action, enabling all programme makers – including directors – to better reflect the rich and diverse ethnic make-up of their viewing audiences.

This is why we have now launched an updated report for 2018. In Adjusting the Colour Balance: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Representation Among Screen Directors Working in UK Television, we look at television output from 2013-2016 across all four of the main UK broadcasters: BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. We find that while there has been a small amount of improvement overall, the fact that such a negligible increase counts as an improvement only highlights the acute under-representation and under-employment of BAME directors.

We find that:

  • Between 2013 and 2016, just 2.22% of UK television programmes were made by BAME directors.
  • There was an increase of just 0.11 percentage points in the amount of television directed by BAME directors – going from 2.2% in 2013 to 2.31% in 2016.
  • Only 3.6% of directors featured in our dataset come from BAME backgrounds.
  • No broadcaster made a significant improvement on diversity in the four-year period. The BBC, ITV and Channel 5 saw marginal increases, whilst Channel 4 saw a slight decline.
  • The genres in which there have been workplace interventions saw the biggest improvement; continuing drama rose by 3 percentage points, while single drama rose by 3.6 percentage points.

For more stats and information, please read the full report.

As a result of these findings, we are today calling on broadcasters to set targets to ensure their workforce mirrors the UK population by 2020, and for them to commit 0.25% of their commissioning spend across all programme making as a levy to fund industry access and career development schemes for underrepresented groups.

We also call on the industry to adopt fairer recruitment practices by having broadcasters build certain provisions into their commissioning contracts. This includes provisions for unconscious bias training, regular networking, external job adverts and written references for freelancers.

And we call on Ofcom to make it mandatory for broadcasters to monitor and publish the equality data for all their staff, both freelance and permanent.

Read on to find out more about the report and our findings.

Key findings

In our report we analyse the proportion of TV programmes directed by BAME directors across the four main UK broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2016. Our data encompasses 47,444 episodes directed by 4,388 individual directors.

You can find out more about the methodology on page 22 of the full report.

Our key finding is that the percentage of television episodes directed by BAME directors did increase slightly across this period, from 2.2% in 2013 to 2.31% in 2016. However, this negligible increase only serves to highlight how low levels of BAME representation were to start with, and the lack of progress that has been made by broadcasters and producers. For comparison, according to the 2011 Census, 14% of the UK population consists of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

When looking at the directors themselves, we found that just 3.6% of the UK television directors featured in the dataset come from BAME backgrounds. In other words, 158 of the 4,388 directors are of BAME origin. While 3.6% is still a low number, the fact that 3.6% of the directors are only carrying out 2.22% of the work, indicates that there is a measure of under-employment even amongst that small number of BAME directors that are able to break through.

None of the four main UK broadcasters made a significant improvement on diversity from 2013 to 2016. The BBC saw a 0.18 percentage-point increase, while ITV and Channel 5 respectively experienced 0.21 and 0.39 percentage-point rises. In the same period, Channel 4 actually saw a small decline of 0.15 percentage points.

The only real running theme of the report is the year-on-year fluctuations that appear across all the genres and broadcasters, suggesting that there is an inconsistent approach to achieving change. The BBC and ITV’s figures trend slightly upwards after taking a sharp dip in 2014. Whereas Channel 4 reached its peak in 2014, trending downwards after that. And Channel 5 peaked in 2015 before dropping again.

You can see what the broadcasters had to say about these findings below or on page 18 of the full report.

When examining specific genres, the figures were similarly varied. Our report found little or no improvement in the percentage of episodes made by BAME directors in factual (a 0.3 percentage-point decrease) or multicamera/entertainment and children’s (both increased by 0.1 percentage points). However, there was a noteworthy rise in drama and comedy which increased by 1.5 percentage points, from 2.6% in 2013 to 4.1% in 2016.

We believe the rise in the number of drama and comedy episodes made by BAME directors during 2013–16 is due in part to a series of workplace interventions providing opportunities for under-represented groups in continuing drama (or soaps) and single drama. These interventions contributed to a 3 percentage-point increase in the number of continuing drama episodes directed by BAME directors, from 2.7% to 5.7%, and a rise of 3.6 percentage points in single drama, from 2.3% to 5.9%. Find out more in the Intervention section below.

Beyond drama and comedy though, the figures within some other subgenres are particularly worrying. For instance, we found that no BAME directors worked on debate programmes between 2013 and 2016. And while there were approximately 1,500 game show episodes made per year (over 6,000 episodes across the whole four-year period), just one of those episodes was made by a BAME director. Likewise, despite there being over 1,790 pre-school episodes made between 2013 and 2016, only one was directed by someone from a BAME background.

These stats are extremely discouraging and raise questions as to whether there are specific barriers that are blocking new talent within these subgenres.

Read all the stats including full breakdowns by subgenre and broadcaster in the full report.


With a high volume of episodes, continuing drama makes up a substantial share of all television content. Career interventions within this sub-genre therefore offer a significant opportunity to bolster the number of working BAME directors.

In 2015, BBC Writersroom set up a scheme for early career directors: the BBC Continuing Drama Directors’ Scheme. It provides career development opportunities on continuing drama series, including Casualty, Doctors, EastEnders, Holby City and River City, and is supported and part-funded by Directors UK. In the first two years (2015 and 2016), 21 directors took part in the scheme and a third of those were of BAME origin.

Interventions like these have gone on to generate long-term opportunities, with participants offered further blocks of episodes to direct after their initial placement has ended.

As can be seen from the chart above, Doctors showed a significantly higher number of episodes by BAME directors in 2016, which is a compelling indication that positive intervention does increase the level of BAME representation. However, we are yet to see a trend of BAME directors moving on from Doctors to higher profile and higher budget continuing dramas.

Until such interventions become common practice instead of the exception, a positive and long-lasting move towards equality will not happen. This is why Directors UK is calling for a levy to fund investment in career access and development across all genres – see more about this in the Our Recommendations section below.

Read more about the interventions that have taken place in continuing drama on page 12 of the full report.

The response from the broadcasters

Prior to the publication of this report we sent our findings to the featured broadcasters, and they chose to respond to us through the Creative Diversity Network (CDN). All the broadcasters pointed to the various initiatives and inclusion strategies they’ve put in place, whilst acknowledging that there’s more work that needs to be done.

Deborah Williams, Executive Director of CDN, said: “Directors UK’s report is a good start and will, we hope, over time demonstrate how long-term data can provide rich insights. We look forward to the next three years of data being published by Directors UK which we hope will provide additional insights into our own data, which is growing steadily.”

The BBC also sent us a separate response, drawing attention to successful initiatives such as the Documentary Directors’ Initiative and the aforementioned Continuing Drama Directors’ Scheme. The BBC’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Tunde Ogungbesan, said that “The small number of BAME directors working across the TV industry is a concern for everyone who cares about representation”.

Every broadcaster has stated their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, but now we need these words to lead to results.

Read the broadcasters’ unabridged responses on page 18 of the full report.

Our recommendations

The aim of our report is not just to raise awareness but also to make suggestions that will bring about real change. Our recommendations cross all diversity and inclusion categories in order to support all directors working in the creative industries.

We make four main recommendations:

1. A new Ofcom requirement that calls on broadcasters to collect characteristic data for directors and other senior production roles

Existing diversity information collected by Ofcom does not contain comprehensive data surrounding freelance programme makers. We are calling for Ofcom to make it a mandatory annual requirement for all UK broadcasters to monitor and publicly report on the diversity characteristics of all those making programmes for them. This reporting must include both permanent staff and freelancers.

In particular, we would like to see broadcasters monitor and publish diversity data on directors and other senior production roles.

This transparency within individual roles will make broadcasters accountable to their equality, diversity and inclusion actions and commissioning goals and identify areas of concern that can be positively addressed. It will also prevent the lack of diversity among directors being lost or hidden in overall monitoring statistics.

2. Require Ofcom to set targets for TV crews to reflect our population profile

We call for Ofcom to set broadcasters targets to use production crews whose gender, ethnic and disability makeup mirrors that of the UK population, both in front of and behind the camera, by 2020.

Broadcasters should be required to show evidence of initiatives undertaken year on year to improve diversity and inclusion among directors as well as presenting statistical results.

3. Recruit TV crews from a wider pool of talent using fairer practices and ensure employers have unconscious bias training

We call on broadcasters to take practical measures to improve the diversity of their programme makers, in particular directors, and to build the following provisions into their commissioning contracts:

  • Unconscious bias training for everyone in hiring or hiring approval positions in broadcasters and production companies.
  • A commitment to regularly bring commissioners, production companies and freelancers together to network to improve job mobility within the industry.
  • A commitment to fairer recruitment practices in line with other industries to improve equal access to opportunities for all, including gender and BAME workers; in particular, externally advertising roles and the introduction of written references for freelance production staff.

4. Require broadcasters to commit 0.25% of their commissioning spend to fund career development

For all broadcasters to commit 0.25% of their commissioning spend across all programme making as a levy to fund industry access and career development schemes for under-represented groups. Currently only high-end drama and children’s programmes are part of industry training levies.

Find out more about our recommendations on page 21 of the full report.

Our report’s findings indicate that there is still much work to do when it comes to BAME representation and employment.

Even though 14% of the UK population consists of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, an average of just 2.22% of TV programmes were made by BAME directors. This creates a cultural separation between the people who make our television programmes and the audience that watches them.

In their September 2017 report, Ofcom Chief Executive Sharon White stated: “Television has the power to shape and represent our identities and values. To achieve that, broadcasters must reflect the society we live in”. Clearly, television is failing to live up to that standard. Hopefully, the robust evidence provided by our report will encourage the industry to undertake the significant work that still needs to be done.


Find out more about the Directors UK BAME Directors campaign

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