I get a lot of questions about using male versus female voices in media productions. Largely because there are some terrific female narrators out there, and yet most videos, commercials, news, and other media seem to be dominated by male voices. Does it matter? I’ve asked many direct response producers, because DR is a genre that needs results right away. That includes infomercials, fundraising programming, donor development media, and most of religious media. It’s a place where you can measure results quickly, and Direct Response writers and producers have always told me that “People like female voices, but they respond to male voices.”
Don’t shoot the messenger here, but I have to admit that’s been my experience as well. Now in a new book called ‘The News Sorority’ by Sheila Weller, that seems to be confirmed. She documents the rise of women in network news, and in that business, ratings trump everything. TV journalist Campbell Brown reviews the book in The Wall Street Journal, and relates this story about the decision for CBS News to replace Katie Couric with Scott Pelley:
“But in TV, ratings trump all, and as CBS executive Paul Friedman bluntly told Ms. Weller: “We believe[d] Scott Pelley would get better ratings than Katie, only because he’s a male. He is not necessarily better than she is. . . . But he is a male, and his ratings should go up.” When Mr. Pelley replaced Ms. Couric in 2011, ratings improved dramatically: “Within three-quarters of a year of Pelley’s becoming anchor, the show gained almost a million viewers.””
The gain of a million viewers is pretty significant. Certainly it could be a personal dislike those million viewers had for Katie, but considering the responses I’ve received from commercial, documentary, news, and other media producers, it seems to echo the same line.
People like female voices but respond to male voices.
Could be culture, style, or other bias, but it seems to hold fast. Producers: What’s been your experience?