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The panel on stage at the Spotlight industry forum 2023 in London

Image credit: Phillip Waterman

Channel 4 Present: Mirror on the Industry

Hosted by Mel Brown (Customer Success Manager, Spotlight), Presenters: Samantha Cannons & Sophia Field (Research Managers, Channel 4), Panellists: Selma Nicholls CDA (Look Like Me Casting), Sue Moore (Zebedee Management) & Marcus Rider (Chair of RADA, CEO of Film & TV Charity)

Watch the recording of Channel 4 Present: Mirror on the Industry

Presenting the third wave of insight from Channel 4’s research into how diversity and inclusion within TV advertising is changing over time. Championing diversity and inclusion is at the heart of Channel 4’s remit and everything they do, and they hope that by tracking the progress of representation over time it will encourage the industry to do better. People are more aware of diversity and inclusion now, and care more about the ethics of the companies they buy from.

Channel 4 audits the TV adverts that go out in March and September, code the adverts for representation of minority groups, and check whether they’re in lead roles or whether the role is stereotypical. Each advert takes seven minutes to code.

How have the levels of representation in TV adverts changed over time?

Disabled people 

  • Channel 4 now uses the term ‘disabled people’ instead of ‘people with disabilities’ to put emphasis on how our society has been built to exclude them.
  • Disabled people make up 22% of the population (as of the last census).
  • They’re featured in 4% of adverts, and less than half of these adverts show them in lead roles. 
  • Their portrayal is limited to either hero or victim, and so is drawing on stereotypes to create the narrative. 
  • This is unhelpful for representing the lived experiences of disabled people in everyday life.
  • 63% of adverts showing disabled people show mobility/limb difference issues.


  • They’re featured in only 3% of TV adverts, which was the same as the first year these results were carried out, and only 1% of adverts show them in lead roles.
  • The group is mostly represented in TV adverts by young, white, male gay people. 
  • Less than 1% of TV adverts represent transgender people.
  • They’re twice as likely to be used in brand-building adverts, and less likely to be in adverts about a product or service.
  • Over half the adverts they’re in are montage adverts.
  • There seem to be three approaches to representing this group in TV adverts:
    • Using a famous person who is known to be open about their sexuality (the advert then relies on this public knowledge instead of including anything in the advert to point to it).
    • The sexuality of the character is built into the script (e.g. a woman referring to her girlfriend).
    • Relying on stereotypes (The ‘Will and Grace effect’ where adverts say gay men are just like you, they just happen to sleep with the same sex, instead of acknowledging that they may have different values). 

Ethnic minorities 

  • Black people are the best proportionally represented and have seen their representation increase to 45% of TV adverts, with 22% of them being in lead roles.
  • South Asian representation is on the decrease, dropping to being in 12% of TV adverts from 15%.
  • East Asian people are the lead in only 2% of TV adverts.
  • East and South Asian characters in adverts rely heavily on stereotypes, and are in adverts that feature a higher number of characters.
  • Only 1% of TV adverts have another ethnic minority in a lead role.
  • 82% of TV adverts with ethnic minority characters also feature a white character.
  • 9 out of 10 ads that feature a multi-ethnic character has them feature with white people. The multi-ethnic characters are usually young and female. 
  • The multi-ethnic family is used as a diversity shortcut and tick box exercise in some adverts.
  • We need to portray ethnic minorities in authentic ways by giving them lead roles and their own stories. They need to be in the advert from the beginning because it’s about them and their story, not added as an afterthought.

Over 50s 

  • 55+ is a common term in the industry, even though it encompasses a wide range of people with a wide range of differences.
  • 76% of adverts have characters assumed to be 16-49. 
  • Only 25% of adverts have people over 50 in. The representation is still recovering from the impact of the Pandemic – it was 34% pre-pandemic. 
  • Older people are less likely to be from ethnic minorities, and less likely to be black or women.


  • Adverts featuring women are less likely to be funny than adverts featuring men. 
  • Adverts featuring only men are twice as likely to be comedic, a trend which is growing year on year. 
  • Cosmetic and health brand adverts are more likely to feature only women. 
  • Male only adverts are more likely to be about DIY things, business and finance sector, and point to ‘man of the house’ and ‘boys club’ storylines
  • Men are being seen in more household roles now, with some brands engaging in cheeky narratives about what it means to be a man today. 
  • Men are still often characterised as messy, smelly and useless in adverts – this needs to change. 

Social grade

  • Is social grade something that’s still relevant today? 
  • It’s important to represent both sides of society, so Channel 4 still need to measure it in their audits. 
  • 3x more characters in adverts are assumed to be a higher social grade, and 6% are assumed to be a lower social grade. 
  • We need more working class representation. They are currently used with the stereotype of being shown in the workplace, shown in uniform or untidily dressed, and are less likely to be shown as happy.

Body diversity

  • This is the first time Channel 4 have included this type of representation in their audit. 
  • Less than 1 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men feel positive about the way they look. 
  • There’s a clear demand for more body diversity in adverts, as currently the perception is that it’s confined to bodies that are slim. 
  • 82% of adverts feature slim bodies, 2% feature plus size people, and 5% feature athletic bodies. 
  • Plus size characters tend to be older and have a disability, and are 53% more likely to be in playful or comedic ads (e.g. the Go Compare man). 

Key takeaways:

  • Inclusive adverts play a vital role in societal change, as they break down barriers and social narratives. It’s important for a brand to maintain diversity through all their types of communication throughout the year to not be accused of tokenism. You’ll never be able to represent 100% of people in 100% of adverts, so don’t try to tick every box in a single advert.
  • The fear of backlash is sometimes a blocker for adverts being diverse. 1.1 million people in the UK think we shouldn’t have equality for everyone. This is only 2% of the UK, but these people can be the most vocal.
  • Companies should always anticipate backlash and have a strategy in place to account for the extremes. They need to rely on insight and use knowledge from the people they’re speaking to, and be open to and welcome complaints.

Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property

Hosted by: David Flynn (Head of Success, Spotlight), Panellists: Daniel Hinchliffe (Agent, The Soundcheck Group), Mark Deem (Technology Litigation Lawyer, Wiggin LLP), David Menkin (Actor), Jessica Jeffries (Casting Director), Hayley Ori (Bespoke Voices), Liam Budd (EquityUK) & Marcus Hutton (Chair of the Equity Audio Committee)

Watch the recording of Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property

How can AI help casting directors and agents do their job quickly and efficiently?

  • AI could open up exciting new work and new ways of storytelling. 
  • Virtual reality didn’t take away from videogames – it added a new branch. 
  • There’s the possibility for actors to have an avatar which can get them work when they’re busy. E.g. David isn’t available this week, but here’s his AI voice for you.
  • There could be AI tools to help streamline things like self-tapes. 
  • A lot of companies are trying to position themselves in the market, so they’re making all sorts of claims. Remember that not all of them will succeed. 
  • Artists need to have complete control and consent over clones of their likeness and voice, and to be compensated fairly for their work. 
  • Equity has a toolkit to help actors feel empowered to make informed decisions about engaging with AI. The resources in this toolkit are a summary of the AI landscape, and three template contracts: 
    • Model AI clauses (which enable you to exclude generative AI from what you do).
    • For actors who want to get their voice or likeness cloned for AI use.
    • A take down notice (if you see your intellectual property rights have been infringed).

Are contracts that stated ‘use in perpetuity’ fraught in light of AI? 

This is a big question as the legal position is still a grey area. You could resolve it by approaching the production company and saying don’t grant consent to open into negotiations with them. 

The problem with AI is that you consent once, but then that one consent can go into thousands of projects. On normal work, you consent each time. Once you’re in the ‘matrix’, you don’t get the chance to consent again. 

We must put the AI cloning clause in contracts. For now, this is what we have. Push back to let the companies know this isn’t acceptable. 

Companies only insist on ‘all rights’ because of streaming culture (where videogame players stream the game online). It’s active advertising on behalf of the game, and you cannot expect to get paid for the use of your voice work (e.g.) in the clips on their stream, so the company insists on not signing up to Equity contracts.

There are poor contractual practices with platforms like Mandy, where worldwide rights are bought for £5,000 with no chance for debate. You might as well give up and not take the job then. As actors and union people, we need to push back and say they can’t do that. 

There’s a risk of seeing AI as magic, but it isn’t. It’s not intelligent. We need to understand what it is and what it’s not in order to come up with legislation. There’s the sensationalism of robots coming to take our jobs, but this technology is based on data and rules and algorithms to apply that data. We have to focus not on the magic, but on what we’re trying to protect. We need to protect the data and ensure our consent is needed to protect ourselves. 

– If we leave it up to governments and legislators, it will be a mess. Once we engage in what AI is and how it will be used, the guard rails can be put in place. We can take control of this. It’s up to individuals, agents and casting directors to be the gatekeepers who push back. We need workable solutions now, not when the law changes in five years. We only got performers rights for film for actors in 2012, and the UK still hasn’t been ratified. Film first came in in 1912 – it’s taken 100 years for actors to get this legislation.

– When your clients are working on production, they will be asked to go into a van and get scanned. You need to tell your client not to do anything except their lines in the filming space, because you have no idea what the scan will be used for. 

– There is no universal definition of AI, so beware that if the phrase AI is thrown in, make sure you understand what it means and define it yourself if necessary.

There needs to be personal responsibility on actors to educate themselves and have conversations with casting directors and agents about what they want to do and not do. 

– If you’re a professional actor, you need to think professionally. Don’t do any job for £50 – it’s self-exploiting. People want to get into the industry so badly, but the race to the bottom doesn’t help anyone.

Does copyright law stand a chance with AI?

– People will start using ‘fair use’ in defence of AI – they’ll say something has been changed enough. Fair use is only a USA thing though. 

– The EU has done a good thing in extending writer’s rights to performers. The EU is very good at protecting cultural identities, but the law in the UK sees the performer as a puppet that does the bidding of the master creator, and that’s something we need to shift. 

Key takeaways:

  • Read your contracts, really understand them, go to the resources on the Stealing the Show site.
  • This technology can be transformative, we just need to engage with it.
  • Work alongside AI – it’s here and not going anywhere. Speak to each other. The only way to get through this is solidarity.
  • Casting directors and agents need to work together to make the producers afraid.
  • Educate yourself and your clients, find out keywords and what they mean in a contract, and then understand why it’s there and question it.
  • Learn about copyright law, as this is where this sits.

Everybody’s Talking About Gender 

Host: Tigger Blaize (Actor, He/Him), Panellists: Tom Payne (Casting Director, They/Them), Shauna Kiernan (Agent, Winterson’s, They/She), Anna Bennett (RADA Industry Liaison, RADA Pride, She/Her), Alfie Jallow (Actor, He/Him), E.M. Williams (Actor/Movement Director, They/Them)


  • People are most worried about getting pronouns wrong.
  • Neo pronouns are gender neutral pronouns, e.g. Ze, Zem, Per, Fon.
  • If someone uses a mix of pronouns (e.g. she and they) you can use them interchangeably in the same sentence. It’s validating for the individual to hear both of those pronouns (written or spoken).
  • Intersex means someone’s reproductive or sexual anatomy, or hormonal or chromosomal patterns differ from the cultural stereotypes of what we understand male and female to be today. 
  • Intersex isn’t a gender identity or sexuality.
  • Intersex can also be known as DSC (Differences in Sex Characteristics) or VSC (Variation in Sex Characteristics).
  • Someone who is intersex may identify as trans or non-binary – it depends on the individual.


  • We are assigned a gender at birth: male, female or intersex (in rare cases).
  • If you identify with the gender you’re assigned at birth, then you’re cisgender (Latin for ‘on the side of’).
  • If you don’t identify with the gender you’re assigned at birth, then you’re transgender (Latin for ‘across, wrong’). 
  • Trans people may take steps to transition legally, medically or socially. It doesn’t make you any less trans if you transition or don’t – every trans person transitions in their own way.
  • MTF means male to female, and FTM means female to male.
  • Gender non-conforming means someone’s gender doesn’t conform to expectations of what is ‘appropriate’ for their gender (which shifts with time). It’s always about how we relate to that in the now.
  • Gender fluid means someone’s gender isn’t fixed. The gender they identify as may shift over time or due to circumstances, and may or may not include changes to their pronouns or outward appearance.
  • Non-binary means someone experiences gender outside of traditional definitions of male and female. They may identify as both, or outside of them altogether.
  • People expect non-binary to be a third gender, but that’s not the case. Think of it like a colour palette. If femininity is pastel colours and masculinity is the primary colours, there’s also neon, metallics, and everything else, so depending on the day, the colours that compliment you can change.
  • Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, pangender. The list is growing as people coin phrases to encompass who they are.

Auditioning trans actors

  • It’s okay to make mistakes! It’s about your intention and what you do from that. 
  • Please meet trans and non-binary people, even if you don’t know much about the experience. Hopefully you’ll see how they fit into your casting briefs. 
  • Agents can assist with pronouns so you’re not on your own as a casting director. 
  • Make sure you’re using the correct pronouns for the character you’re talking about. 
  • Ask people what their pronouns are – it’s not a rude question. It’s better if you offer yours first as it makes the person feel like they’re not the only ones who have to disclose them constantly. 
  • If you make a mistake, apologise, correct yourself and move on. No dramas please! 
  • Venues should be accessible to disabled people, close to street lighting, and have good footfall, as trans people are more at risk of hate crime. 
  • If you need to direct people in auditions, avoid stereotyping words like butch, fey, etc. 
  • It’s good practice for us all to start using pronouns and also to put them on session sheets. 
  • Make sure everyone feels comfortable on set with dressing facilities. 

Advice for Agents

  • Put your pronouns in your email signature and on your website to encourage other people to use theirs. 
  • Allow spaces in client information for actors to submit any information they want to. It’s up to the actor whether to disclose their gender/pronouns or not. If they do choose to, discuss how they would like to navigate the industry as they go through their transition. 
  • Actors could put on their Spotlight profile that they’re happy to play all genders. 
  • When it’s a trans lead role, is the script focusing on trauma? Let the client know if there’s sensitive material. 
  • Only give information that the actor is comfortable to have passed forward. 
  • Don’t wait for trans roles to submit trans actors. Find places to fit the actors in – trans is not a skill. 


  • This is the way forward – all of us working together instead of staying in boxes.
  • The nine protected characteristics are:
    • Age
    • Disability
    • Gender reassignment
    • Marriage and civil partnership
    • Pregnancy and maternity
    • Race
    • Religion or belief
    • Sex
    • Sexual orientation
  • Trans people can have intersecting characteristics from the list above, just like anyone else. 
  • None of us live single issue lives – we’re not just a person of colour, we’re not just disabled, etc. We all have at least one or two characteristics that intersect.


  • The best person for the role only works if you recognise the biases you have. We have to accept that the assumptions and biases in our head are doing the work going forward. 
  • Never ask someone if they’re trans – it’s illegal. Do not ask personal questions like, ‘Where are you during your transition?’
  • We need to ensure character briefs are as informative as possible when they go out. 
  • Non-binary isn’t all-encompassing as a term for describing a character.

Beyond Borders: The Right to Work

Host: Pippa Harrison (Global Head of Industry Relations in Marketing, Spotlight), Panellists: John Barclay (Equity UK), Tracy Ifeachor (Actor), Avy Kaufman (US Casting Director), Saskia Mulder (Agent, The Artists Partnership), Nancy Thomas (Agent, Henneman Agency)

UK production is global and stretches across Europe, and we come across horror stories about actors trying to get visas for the rest of Europe. Contact the relevant embassy and see what restrictions are. If a UK passport holder wants to work in the EU, then Equity would recommend you contact the embassy of that country.

US Visas 

  • There are two main types of visas: an 01 visa if you’re an actor, and a general 01 which, as long as it’s sponsored by a US manager or US agent, will allow you to work anywhere under anything so long as it’s acting related. 
  • With a general 01, the person who sponsors you (petitioner) can turn around and say, “I don’t want to sponsor you anymore,” and when that happens you can no longer work legally. 
  • This can happen without studios knowing about it, so the studio will get you your own one so you’re covered. 
  • The only difference between a Greencard holder and a US citizen is that you can vote as a citizen. 
  • You don’t need to give up your UK citizenship, but this isn’t true for all countries. You have to declare you have a US passport to the UK embassy, which rules you out for a few minor things.
  • Every studio, network and some independent films will not accept an 01 visa. Every studio wants their own 01 visa. 
  • You need to include and use specific wording in your recommendation letters and application. 
  • Our culture in the UK is quite reserved, but in the US, if you say you’re quite good they’ll think you’re not good. You have to approach the application with a different mindset. 
  • An 01 visa isn’t the answer, but it does help as they’ll be more confident that you deserve an 01. 
  • $1,225 processing fee for 14 day decision. When you do your second 01, some people get it within 24 hours. 
  • You must have a serious body of work to show you’re a unique talent that wouldn’t be found in the US. A press pack is important, as well is getting casting directors or producers to sign recommendations. 
  • Brexit was an opportunity for European actors who can work anywhere with their EU passport. It can be off-putting for US casting directors to be faced with the passport situation. If producers don’t make a decision fast enough, then there isn’t enough time to get the actor a visa.

How is the SAG-AFTRA strike affecting UK members? 

  • If you live in the UK, you’re entitled to do a PACT/Equity contract. 
  • Strikes are domain specific. The SAG-AFTRA strike is domain specific, so you can work on an Equity contract, and if you refuse to work on a UK SAG-AFTRA production, they can hold you reliable. 
  • In the UK, we can’t offer secondary strike action in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the US. 


  • When you’re co-repping, it’s about having boots on the ground in the country you’re working in. 
  • In the Netherlands, actors are sometimes triple booked, so they’ll be in a TV show in the day and the theatre in the night, and they just have the mentality of ‘I’ll make it work’. 
  • It’s illegal in the UK to ask someone if they belong to a union, but you can ask where people legally have the right to work. 
  • We don’t have the luxury of working multiple jobs at the same time in the UK. Our contracts are riddled with exclusivity clauses thanks to the US. It’s a danger for our industry in the UK.

State of the Industry Debate

Moderator: Mona Tabbara (Screen Daily Magazine), Panellists: Avy Kaufman (US Casting Director), Kharmel Cochrane (Casting Director), Sarah MacDonnell (AYPA), Bill Petrie (Agent, BWH), John Barclay (Assistant General Secretary, Equity UK), Mildred Yuan (Agent, United Agents), Ali Fearnley (Casting Director), Victor Jenkins (Casting Director), John Love (Agent, AVA Association), Anna Stark (CDA Co-Chair)


  • Self-tapes are not going anywhere, and they allow more opportunity. More people get to be seen, including those outside of London and those with access needs.
  • They level the playing field as everyone has the same environment.
  • New guidelines help casting directors moderate themselves, and being in the room will always be vital, but self-tapes will always be around.
  • The self-taping process needs to be more human. Sometimes only sides are provided and no context for the script.
  • A casting director’s job is to break it all down and make it succinct and easy to understand for the actor. You’d hope the director and production company would already have it done, but often they don’t.
  • For young performers, parents are going to take over and direct the child, so you won’t get the child’s natural instinct. 
  • Self-taping has improved since guidelines were introduced, as we can check who is consistently not adhering to them. 
  • In the room, 9 of 10 people don’t get the job, but when seeing 100 self-tapes, 99 people don’t get the job. How does that affect mental health? Do some people leave the acting game before they even get a chance to get started? 
  • Members are receiving NDAs on self-tapes and aren’t even given parts of script or don’t know the name of the show, so there’s a growing concern about the number of self-tapes arriving we don’t know where, and what is the life of the self-tapes? Are they being deleted, is there transparency around that process? AI means we now need to worry about this. 

Streaming Services

  • The streamers have brought US style contracts over, and have the money to employ large law firms. It’s wrong and it can’t continue – they tie up our talent for a period of 6-8 months. An agent’s job is to create a career for their actors, and that’s very difficult these days.
  • The streamers have destroyed the UK independent film sector. UK independent films can’t even get into cinemas anymore, so they don’t get money from the box office to put back into independent films to keep it alive.
  • The salaries look good, but the downside is that US attorneys have come over, agents have engaged US attorneys, exclusivity prohibitions have been brought in, and more recently US attorneys have brought no end contracts to the table. So you have contracts with no end, and you can’t work anywhere else during those moments when you’re not working. 
  • During the strike, productions stopped, and you couldn’t go elsewhere for work in the meantime. 
  • Streamers are cannibalising the industry. They have destroyed traditional production in this country – performers used to enjoy royalties, but the streamers have kept the content on their platform forever. 
  • There is slight hope, as Warner Bros and HBO sold Band of Brothers to Netflix, so members will enjoy a royalty on that. 
  • The streamers know they can’t keep their product on their platform forever with no additional payment. Joined with SAG-AFTRA with principles of higher minimums, we need to address the ongoing payments and AI. 
  • There are programs out there for streaming platforms that pay actors engagement fees that are less than what they’d earn for an episode of Casualty. Lead actors are getting a nice bulk fee, but the next rung down are getting an engagement fee and buyout which are nothing. 
  • A lot of actors would love to work on these streaming projects. There are way more actors than jobs, and the streamer projects look well-funded and a good credit, so they want to do that. 

Young Performers

  • In the UK, nudity and scenes of a sexual nature should not be undertaken by any actor under the age of 18.
  • Hugging a parent or sitting on someone’s knee is also something that should be viewed as intimacy. Any contact or relationship should have an intimacy coordinator. 
  • The AYPA (Agents of Young Performers Association) have put together a set of helpful guidelines for industry professionals working with an representing 16-18 year olds.
  • All children, when working, have to be licensed and have to do schooling. There are layers of safeguarding with that licence, however, once they turn 16, they are out of licence and are considered adults, and potentially no longer protected, so what more can be done to protect them?
  • A lot of actors working aged 16-18 have come through the ranks as child actors and have always had a chaperone telling them where to go, what to do, and what and when to eat. Once they are out of licence, we need to make sure there’s no kind of risk, and protect their mental health and wellbeing. On set, they might not know who to talk to or where to go. 
  • Some 16-18 year olds think they’re adults – they don’t realise that they’re not. It’s still such a vulnerable age, and we’re launching these young people into an industry that can be terrifying even when everything is in place, so imagine if everything isn’t in place. 
  • We don’t want them to drop out of the industry because of a bad experience when they could have had incredible careers.

Big Names

  • Everyone needs to remember that we work in a business. When people see the same names on TV, it’s because the people who finance the projects think they’ll make their money back with this person. 
  • The people with money think backwards (who’s already a star?) while casting directors look forward (who’s an up-and-coming star?). 
  • Networks and commissioners don’t trust the product. It should be a case of, ‘We have a good script, let us make the product,” but they need a name because they’re not convinced by it.
  • There’s enough people in the industry still who just love talent, and do what they can to get the talent into projects. Before the streamers, so many programs worked multiple series and never needed an option. 

Hair and Make-up for Non-White Performers

  • The Diverse Squad surveyed 1,300 non-white actors on their treatment during the casting and audition process. 
  • 71% of all respondents said they experienced a lack of provision for hair and make-up on set. So they arrived on set, expecting to be made up in the make-up chair, and were told they didn’t have the suitable products for them, and they then had to do it themselves on their own time.
  • Today it was announced that the Diverse Squad would be launching the Inclusive Complexion Edit in partnership with Spotlight. MAC will provide discounts to incentivise people to buy these. Agents can ask for and provide your clients MAC foundation code, type it into Tagmin, and then the production can cater for their skin colour.
  • It’s not a good enough excuse anymore to say a production doesn’t have the budget for that. You need to have it. If you want to cast diversely, you have to have it in your budget, and it needs to be in there from the beginning. You need to hire a hair and make-up artist who has the skill to deal with the client you book. 

The Age of AI

  • The industry doesn’t know what it’s doing around AI. It’s consuming so much time across the global unions. 
  • We need to look back over old contracts and see if the copyright clause allows you to manipulate the performer’s likeness using AI. 
  • Performers will have to give informed consent. They will need to know where are you going to use it? How are you going to use it? How long are you going to use it? Then we can determine the economic value of their voice or likeness in different ways. 
  • We’ve got to read those pages of stipulations and unpick what’s being put in there to ensure the performers are free to monetise their likeness in the future instead of giving it away forever. 
  • We get to this stage with business affairs, streamers and lawyers where they threaten the actor and the agent and say they will move on, and they will. It’s hard to say to an actor that they’re losing an opportunity because the agent is losing that fight. 
  • There are areas of work in our world susceptible to eradication. We have to turn the tide and support one another and get away from the idea of them moving on, because then the next person will say no. 
  • It’s our industry, the performers industry, not the streamers or AI’s industry.