Strategy & MarketingMedia Production

In Media Programming, Are Male or Female Narrators More Effective?

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?

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  1. I was trying to imagine a documentary like ‘The Civil War’ from Ken Burns with a female narrator. It’s difficult to imagine. News anchoring, serious documentary film, or historical pieces seem to be particularly suited for the male voice.

    You may be right about the response factor.

    I remember a serious ice storm knocking out the power for days where I grew up. All we had was the radio. A local news anchor (male) kept us up-to-date hour by hour through the crisis. His voice was absolutely authoritative. I’m not sure a female could have pulled it off.

  2. In church services, over time, attendance goes up when the worship leader is male and goes down when the worship leader is female.

  3. Phil, whew, for a minute there I thought I was about to be out of work LOL… Personally I prefer the older male adult voice, BUT, when I am doing promotions that are for women’s ministry or female events etc. I will use a female voice every time. There are always exceptions to the rule as at times if the copy is leading towards a soft sell, then the softer female appeal would be my voice of choice. The same applies when we are doing phone trees, to me it sounds weird that the single mom gets a call from a male inviting her to come eat pizza with the ladies Thursday night, just sayin’.

    1. And yet I am drawn to attend a women’s event both with a male voice announcing the event, and the knowledge that men will also take part in the preaching and teaching.

      I love to speak and have aspirations along those lines, but I want to live and walk in the truth, which in this case redirects my ambition, at least in this specific case.

  4. A warm rich male baritone for trust. Such as information folks need to accept. A friendly female when you need to motivate the viewer/listener. Such as giving, take action, vote etc. Maybe doesn’t fly for everyone but seemed to work for me.

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