The 20 Most Powerful Women in Global Television 2016

6:00 AM 10/14/2016

by Scott Roxborough, Alex Ritman, and Etan Vlessing

These innovators are reprogramming the industry by amplifying rich, creative cultures and changing what the world watches (from 'The Great British Bake Off' to the Chinese 'Voice').

Iris Xia Star, Al Kaabi and Jay Hunt - Split - H - 2016

Let's face it: Progress toward gender equality, on TV and in the boardrooms of broadcasters, has been slow. The most recent "Boxed In" study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, which looks at female talent in the U.S. industry, found that only 39 percent of all speaking characters on shows across all platforms were women and that females made up just 27 percent of all individuals working behind the scenes.

No equivalent figures exist for the international TV business, but you can be sure that outside the U.S, it's even worse. For whole regions of the world, the industry remains almost entirely an old boys club. But chipping away at the status quo are these 20 luminaries selected by THR for its annual list of the world's most powerful women in global TV. From the first female boss of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. to the heads of Europe's biggest channel group and its largest production company to a 19-year-old inspiring young girls across Europe and South America, they are, slowly, changing what the world watches and how women, from Berlin to Beijing, are seen.

Additional reporting by Ariston Anderson, Nyay Bhushan, Pip Bulbeck,  Rhonda Richford, and Pamela Rolfe

  • Martina Stoessel (Argentina)

    At 19, the youngest woman on this list and the only non-exec, the singing-acting-dancing sensation earned her spot after three seasons as the titular star of Violetta, the Disney-produced teen telenovela. It was a ratings hit across Latin America and continental Europe, and the Argentine has become a heroine for a generation of 10- to 14-year-old girls. Now Stoessel is seeking to pull a Miley Cyrus, with the release of her first solo album under her own name: Tini topped the charts in Argentina and cracked the top 20 in seven European countries, and an accompanying concert film so far has grossed more than $6.5 million.

  • Michelle Guthrie (Australia)

    Trained as a media lawyer and with a career that includes a stint as a senior exec at Google Asia in Singapore, Guthrie took over as the first female boss of Australia's national broadcaster in May. Her priorities, she says, are to keep ABC competitive in a radically changing media landscape and to increase its on-air and corporate cultural and gender diversity to better represent all Australians. "I see my role as being a catalyst for fresh thinking, encouraging a degree of risk-taking and a questioning of the status quo," says Guthrie.

  • Valerie Creighton (Canada)

    More global buyers gobbling up Canadian TV shows like Vikings and Orphan Black is good news for local producers. But the pace of industry disruption has Creighton, who is key to how Canadian series are developed, financed and promoted, on her toes. "It just feels like the pace of change and the pace at which everybody is working to keep ahead of the curve has accelerated to the point that it feels like we're all going a little bit crazy," she says.

  • Shahrzad Rafati (Canada)

    An exploding and increasingly competitive online video market makes Rafati's continued success all the more impressive. "Becoming the largest multiplatform network globally definitely stands out, as does becoming the No. 3 video property worldwide, following only Google and Facebook," she says of recent milestones.

  • Mary Ann Turcke (Canada)

    It's been a busy time for Turcke. She culled the senior ranks at Bell and engineered a licensing agreement with Time Warner, allowing the company to broadcast and stream HBO content across its platforms and keep Game of Thrones and Westworld away from Netflix in Canada. (Bell also has a licensing agreement with Showtime.) The company also launched the subscription VOD service CraveTV to compete against the streaming juggernaut. Meanwhile, back on the traditional TV platform, Bell's CTV continues as Canada's top-rated broadcaster, boasting such returning hits as Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder.

  • Barbara Williams (Canada)

    After doubling its size by acquiring Shaw Media and its 19 cable channels, Corus tapped Williams to oversee the home of Food Network Canada and HGTV Canada. Williams since has begun transforming the Canadian media player by drumming up more original content for worldwide sale. "One of our key strategies is to own and control more content," she says. "On the plus side, people are consuming more content than ever before. However, we are lagging in capturing and monetizing all of those audiences across platforms."

  • Iris Xia (China)

    The queen of Chinese reality TV, Xia has had massive hit after massive hit for Star China Media, the country's leading production group. Starting with adaptations of imported formats, including So You Think You Can Dance and The Voice of China, Xia has shifted to homegrown originals, which Star owns and sells worldwide. The latest ratings phenomenon is Sing! China, a Voice-style competition show featuring racing chariots instead of spinning chairs (don't ask) that generated a massive 30 percent-plus share of the Chinese TV audience and broke online records, racking up more than 37 billion online video views.

  • Delphine Ernotte-Cunci (France)

    Ernotte-Cunci worked her way up through France Telecom from financial analyst to vice CEO of the group before being appointed president and CEO of France Televisions in 2015. Coming from the staid corporate world, however, has not meant Ernotte-Cunci is afraid to make bold moves. Within nine months of taking over, she launched FranceInfo channel, putting into action the plan for a public all-news network that had been stalled for 15 years. A huge fan of producer Shonda Rhimes, Ernotte-Cunci says, "I devour anything she does."

  • Rola Bauer (Germany)

    Canadian-born and based in both Germany and L.A., the boss of StudioCanal's international TV business has spent a career bridging the gap between American and European audiences, most prominently with Emmy-winning miniseries The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. In her new job leading StudioCanal TV's U.S. operations (which she's shouldering alongside running both her own production company, Tandem, and SC's European co-production division), Bauer is charged with bringing together talents on both sides of the Atlantic to create TV series that can span the globe. Recent projects include new series developed with Benedict Cumberbatch and Idris Elba.

  • Anke Schaferkordt (Germany)

    The joint head of Europe's leading television conglomerate managed the balancing act of growing RTL's traditional business while continuing to push the company, which has 60 channels — including network giants RTL (Germany), M6 (France) and Antena 3 (Spain) — into the digital age. This year, RTL added to its stable of internet-first companies (which include leading MPN Broadband TV and video ad sales group SpotXchange) with the acquisition of online video ad group Smartclip. "The biggest challenge we face is how to keep fine-tuning our strategy in the face of growing complexity in the international video market and the accelerating rate of change affecting our sector," says Schaferkordt.

  • Marina Berlusconi (Italy)

    The daughter of Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the country's premier media mogul: Chair of Italian communications giant Fininvest, she also is head of Mondadori Group, one of Europe's leading publishing houses. With recent deals involving the acquisition of Italy's second-largest publishing house, Rizzoli Books, and e-commerce group Banzai Media, Berlusconi has returned Mondadori to the black and positioned it, as she says, as "a publishing group capable to operate at the level of the big global players."

  • Sunita Uchil (India)

    India is used to dominating its home market, whether in film (Bollywood nearly always beats Hollywood on the subcontinent) or on TV. But that's not enough for Uchil, who's determined to bring the best in Indian TV to the world, and not just the diaspora audience. With a diverse population of more than 1 billion people, India "can draw on a rich culture for content creation," she says. Uchil was instrumental in setting up a "format factory" at Zee, developing in-house productions instead of relying solely on imported fare. "Licensing our formats can be a bigger [business] for us," she says.

  • Teresa Fernandez-Valdes (Spain)

    The creative force behind international hit series Grand Hotel and Velvet, Fernandez-Valdes recently saw production house Bambu's rising star shine brighter when Netflix tapped her for Cable Girls, the streamer's first original series in Spain. With a growing reputation and new capital behind her, Fernandez-Valdes' challenge is to "grow in the international market" while retaining close ties with Spain. "Only then will we feel we've triumphed," says the native of Spain's northwestern Galicia region.

  • Noura Al Kaabi (U.A.E.)

    With Star Wars and Fast & Furious not — yet — eyeing a return to the sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, the focus for twofour54, one of the United Arab Emirates capital's burgeoning Media Free zones, has turned toward television. Under the watchful eye of chairwoman Al Kaabi (recently appointed to the government cabinet), there has been a major increase in Arabic dramas — a hugely lucrative international export — with a number of production companies now having set up in the zone, and a significant three-year deal with regional satellite TV giant MBC that in March saw a 5,400-square-meter backlot opened.

  • Cecile Frot-Coutaz (U.K.)

    While its genre-defining American Idol may have bowed out over the summer after 15 seasons, something Frot-Coutaz says it did with its "head held high," 2016 hasn't been all about departures, with the Fremantle boss able to celebrate the "exceptional performance" of her other shiny-floored smash, America's Got Talent. But Fremantle's future also is in drama, with Jude Law starrer The Young Pope and Starz epic American Gods on its rapidly growing fiction slate. "This is a business full of surprises and constant unpredictability," says Frot-Coutaz. "It is a really interesting time to be in television."

  • Polly Hill (U.K.)

    Hill shocked the British TV industry in April when, after less than a year as drama boss at the BBC, she leaped sideways to the same position at commercial competitor ITV. Hill, whose BBC credits include The Night Manager, The Missing and Wolf Hall, was seen as just the right pair of hands to manage ITV's drama slate as the channel throws some serious weight — and cash — behind its ambitious scripted series. A prime example is this year's Downton Abbey replacement Victoria, which Hill recently recommissioned for a second season.

  • Jay Hunt (U.K.)

    Hunt has heralded a creative renaissance at Channel 4 thanks to groundbreaking reality formats such as Gogglebox — which has sold across the globe — and such scripted series as Catastrophe and Humans. For Hunt, who says her management style is passionate and fast-paced ("I speak too quickly, for starters"), the headline-grabber this year was Channel 4's $95 million deal to snatch ratings hit The Great British Bake Off (15 million viewers!) from the BBC.

  • Sophie Turner-Laing (U.K.)

    Compared to the year of corporate shuffling that followed the multibillion-dollar merger of Endemol and Shine in 2014, the past 12 months have been calm for Turner-Laing, who runs Europe's biggest TV production house (5,000 employees across 120 banners in 30 countries). "I am super proud of how, as a team, we have merged two great companies into a new entity with its own unique vision and values," says the former BSkyB exec, whose production slate runs the gamut from Big Brother to Broadchurch to Black Mirror, the darkly comic hit that Netflix snatched up worldwide.

  • Jane Turton (U.K.)

    Since taking over as CEO at All3Media 18 months ago, Turton has increased the reach of Britain's leading independent TV production and distribution house, now jointly owned by Discovery and Liberty Global. Alongside brands such as Studio Lambert (Gogglebox) and Company Pictures (Shameless), Turton has bolstered All3Media's portfolio with Sam Mendes' Neal Street Productions (Penny Dreadful), New Pictures (The Missing) and Studio Ramsey, the new venture from star chef Gordon Ramsay. Turton acknowledges the company faces a "quality challenge" in replicating its achievements on a global scale. But "our IP pipeline is stronger than ever, so I'm confident that the business is very capable of meeting the challenge."

  • Adriana Cisneros (Venezuela)

    She has been head of the Cisneros Group's multibillion-dollar media and real estate empire since 2013, overseeing media interests and programming that span five continents and more than 90 countries. That empire may get a lot bigger if Cisneros wins a bidding war — against Time Warner and Viacom — to buy leading Argentine broadcaster Telefe from Spain's Telefonica for an estimated $400 million. Part of the third Cisneros generation to run the 90-year-old company, she already has her pick of successors: She and her three siblings have 10 children among them.