25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television

6:00 AM 10/10/2017

by Scott Roxborough

From Australia to China, meet the female execs from around the globe who are rewriting the rules of how we watch TV during a time where "women have to work twice as hard for the same recognition" as men.

splash_globalWomen - THR - H 2017
Illustration by: Tim Peacock

Women ruled at this year's Emmy Awards as the female-focused storylines of The Handmaid's Tale, Veep and Big Little Lies dominated TV's biggest night. And even in the real world, outside the Television Academy and outside the U.S., opportunities for women in television have never looked better.

"It's a great time for women to be entering the business, whether onscreen or off of it," says Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of London-based production giant FremantleMedia Group. But in many parts of the world, says African television pioneer Mosunmola "Mo" Abudu, the power of the patriarchy is still very much in force. "Bottom line, women have to work twice as hard for the same recognition as their male counterparts," she says.

The women on THR's annual list of the world's most power female television execs share their insights on the global landscape — "There are increasingly varied and interesting representations of women on TV who reflect and create new realities," says BBC America's Sarah Barnett — and their advice for future generations of women who want to make their mark on it.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Georg Szalai and Alex Ritman in London contributed to this report.

  • Michelle Guthrie (Australia)

    As the first female boss of Australia's national broadcaster — and the first from a non-English-speaking background (her parents are Australian-Chinese), Guthrie has made on-air diversity her mantra. Aiming to make ABC "look and sound like Australia," she has introduced a "diversity tracker" that keeps tabs on the gender, ethnicity and regional and social demographics of the faces onscreen. "The ABC is at an important moment in its history," she told a crowd at the University of Melbourne. "The challenges we face as an industry have the potential to change the way the ABC engages with its audience and how it remains relevant for the next generation."

  • Shahrzad Rafati (Canada)

    BBTV, which Rafati founded in 2005 and which now is the world's largest multiplatform network, has shifted its business model multiple times to keep up with the transformation of the industry. "I realized that you have to remain nimble and use data and technology to make informed decisions quickly," she says. And, unlike male-dominated Silicon Valley, Rafati has done her part to close the tech gender gap. "As a woman and as a leader, I wanted to make sure that we practice equal pay for equal work. It gives me great pride to say that the disparity in pay across our male and female employees is less than 2 percent, and 43 percent of our employees are now females."

  • Ren Jing (China)

    After starting in the business as a journalist, Ren has launched some of China's most successful reality shows, including China's Got Talent and the hit variety format Go Fighting. Even now, Ren says her goal is to "make shows that really express love and are socially relevant" as well as commercially successful.

  • Huang Lan (China)

    Huang arguably is the busiest TV producer in China, coming off the success of serial drama The First Half of My Life, a ratings and online megahit that, in a first for conservative China, focused on a housewife who, following a messy divorce, becomes a successful career woman. Fox Networks Group has snatched up the show for broadcast in the rest of Asia. Says Huang: "A lot of people enter this industry because they think it is interesting or easy to get famous and have an easy lifestyle. It's not. Young women need to have the attitude of a researcher, an explorer."

  • Delphine Ernotte Cunci (France)

    Since taking the reins of France Televisions in 2015, the former Orange executive has shaken things up at the channel: Ernotte Cunci dismissed longtime nightly news anchor David Pujadas and replaced him with former talk show host Anne-Sophie Lapix in an effort to transform the face of the network. Ernotte Cunci also launched the France.tv freemium SVOD platform that will showcase the channels' programs and partner with nine French producers, including Lagardere Studios, Newen and Banijay, to create content. She notes, "When I see that Netflix is investing $7 billion a year in creation on a global scale, we must greatly strengthen our investments in French fiction, documentary or animation."

  • Carol Trussell (France)

    It has been a busy year for the U.S. division of French film and TV giant Gaumont with the return of the hit Colombian drug series Narcos on Netflix; the season three renewal of Bill Burr's animated comedy series F Is for Family on the streamer; and a series of headline-catching development deals, including a first-look with Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie and his producing partner Heather McQuarrie to adapt multiple scripted drama projects for Gaumont. Trussell sees the golden age of TV as a unique opportunity for female talent: "There is more content than ever, and while this may make it hard to find an audience, it more importantly gives women more opportunity to create content."

  • Rola Bauer (Germany)

    As head of U.S. television operations at French giant Studiocanal and boss of SC's European co-production division, Canada-born and Munich- and L.A.-based producer Bauer oversees some high-profile new productions, including Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Child in Time, which Studiocanal partner SunnyMarch is producing for the BBC and Masterpiece, and Brazza, a Congo-set drama that Bauer's German group Tandem Productions is developing with Havas Media's Save Ferris Entertainment and Idris Elba's Green Door Pictures.

  • Astrid Quentell (Germany)

    Running the production side of Sony's German television operations, Quentell has helped turn the studio outlet into one of the largest and most respected producers of small-screen content in Europe's No. 1 TV territory. Sony's The Teacher has been a critical and commercial hit for leading network RTL, which recently commissioned a sixth season of the school-set dramedy, and the launch of Lion's Den. Says Quentell, "Being successful is not only a matter of talent but very much a matter of hard work and dedication."

  • Anke Schaferkordt (Germany)

    European TV's uber manager Schaferkordt surprised many in the industry this year when she resigned her post as co-CEO of RTL Group, the continent's largest broadcaster, to focus her efforts on transforming RTL's core German free-TV business. German operations still are solid — operating profits of $434 million in the first half of 2017 was on par with 2016's results — but the commercial network faces major challenges as it shifts its traditional ad-funded model to adjust to an increasingly fragmented and on-demand audience.

  • Myleeta Aga (India)

    Aga cut her teeth on U.S. TV — her work as an executive producer on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations for Travel Channel earned her a pair of Emmy noms — before joining BBC Worldwide's India office in 2009 to spearhead the network's move into local productions. Her successes include the shiny floor hit Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa (based on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing), now in its 10th season. "Work hard, with integrity and passion" is her advice to women trying to make it in the industry.

  • Angelica Guerra (Latin America)

    Guerra's recent successes include Blue Demon, a 65-episode drama for Mexican TV giant Televisa that is based on the true-life story of iconic Mexican wrestler Alejandro Munoz Moreno, and the wildly ambitious El Comandante, a co-production with Telemundo about the life and times of late Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. To unwind, Guerra's formula is simple: "Watch series, drink wine and do Pilates, not necessarily in that order."

  • Mosunmola "Mo" Abudu (Nigeria)

    Abudu has been at the forefront of media innovation on the continent since transitioning from a career in human resources at oil giant Exxon Mobil to hosting a talk show to, in 2006, launching her own global network, EbonyLife TV (the largest pan-African network is available in about 50 countries). Her media empire now extends to movies — in 2016, EbonyLife's film division co-produced Nollywood rom-com The Wedding Party, which smashed local box-office records, taking in more than $1.3 million at the Nigerian box office. Her goal for the coming year: "To successfully produce Africa's first sci-fi TV series."

  • Maryam Eid Almheiri (United Arab Emirates)

    At the beating heart of the TV hub that has emerged in Abu Dhabi over the past decade is twofour54, the United Arab Emirates' government-owned media zone that's home to local bases for the likes of CNN, Cartoon Network, Fox Channels, Nat Geo and Sky News. And at the top, overseeing the explosive growth of the local industry, sits AlMheiri, who replaced Noura Al Kaabi after she was upped to chairperson this year.

  • Anne Mensah (United Kingdom)

    Mensah has overseen a drama renaissance at British pay TV network Sky with series like Riviera, starring Julia Stiles, and cop thriller Tin Star, featuring Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks, smashing ratings records for the channel. "The confidence these shows have given our team to go bolder and bigger next year is incredible," she says, adding that to survive, broadcasters "need to be creatively forward-looking and not just reactive" to stand out in a crowded marketplace. "Being good isn't good enough anymore." Off the clock, Mensah unwinds with a bit of reality TV — she cites Love Island on ITV as her indulgence of the moment ("proof positive that audiences love entertaining, warmhearted shows, plus beautiful semi-naked people") and says she's "obsessed" with U.S. comedy. "Basically I relax with real stories and work with made-up ones."

  • Charlotte Moore (United Kingdom)

    Overseeing content at Britain's largest and most trusted broadcaster, Moore easily weathered the loss of hit competition show The Great British Bake Off to competitor Channel 4 by doubling down on drama, including the groundbreaking Three Girls, a series based on true stories of victims of sexual abuse, which had an average audience of 8.1 million on BBC One. Moore reminds young women entering the business that "just because you're organized and good at getting things done, don't let men tell you you're not the creative one."

  • Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner (United Kingdom)

    Since leaving the BBC (where Tranter, pictured top, and Gardner were key in rebooting the sci-fi franchise Doctor Who) to set up their own production shingle in South Wales, they have landed a hit Emmy-winning HBO show (The Night Of, the adaptation of the BBC drama Tranter executive produced), lined up a big-budget adaptation of Philip Pullman's best-selling fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials with the BBC and New Line Cinema and started production on Sky's fantasy series A Discovery of Witches. Gardner says the duo's goal with Bad Wolf is to "unearth and develop quality projects that speak to the world today with entertainment, intelligence and swagger."

  • Sophie Turner Laing (United Kingdom)

    The world's largest independent production group (with a slate that runs from Big Brother and MasterChef to Humans and Black Mirror), Endemol Shine, according to boss Laing, finally has put its 2014 merger "behind us and [we're] now firmly focused on the future." This year saw a few executive shake-ups at the company's U.S. operation — including the exit of co-CEO Charlie Corwin and unscripted topper Eden Gaha and the closure of its short-lived digital studio — but Laing, who got her start in the business working on The Muppets as Jim Henson's secretary, says the industry giant still is focused on "things that can really move the dial," whether it be a U.S. version of cult U.K. series Utopia, which the company has in development with HBO, or efforts to "establish another superbrand in nonscripted."

  • Jane Turton (United Kingdom)

    British indie giant All3Media went from strength to strength in the past year, both in scripted drama, where the company recently bought Fleabag producers Two Brothers Pictures, and in nonscripted, inking a deal with Fox for Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell & Back, a new restaurant reality show. Her advice to young women entering the business: "Be yourself. Be passionate, energetic, dogged. Hard work pays off. Be creative and have fun."

  • Cecile Frot-Coutaz (United Kingdom)

    Frot-Coutaz pulled off one of TV's biggest coups this year when she successfully struck a deal with ABC to bring American Idol back to U.S. screens in 2018. But globally, the France-born executive has been pushing innovation at Fremantle, with acclaimed scripted series The Young Pope (HBO) and Starz's American Gods and her continuing drive to diversify and strengthen her company for an uncertain future. "The sobering realization is that we all think we've already been disrupted — whether by Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Netflix," she says, "but in fact this is only the beginning."

  • Polly Hill (United Kingdom)

    Poached from the BBC in 2016 (at reportedly double her corporate salary), Hill has been charged with revitalizing leading commercial network ITV in its post-Downton Abbey phase. The initial reviews have been positive: Season three of the crime drama Broadchurch was hailed as a return to form after season two was panned, and Hill has an impressive lineup of top-notch dramas in the wings, including a big-budget, seven-part remake of Vanity Fair, starring Tom Bateman and Michael Palin, and the contemporary family thriller Next of Kin featuring The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi. Says Hill: "My first job was with the incredible [Doctor Who producer] Verity Lambert working as a script reader. She taught me that great work should also be great fun."

  • Sarah Barnett (United States)

    With the signoff of the Emmy-winning drama Orphan Black this season, Barnett and BBC America face a turning point, one she met head-on with the big swing of nature doc Planet Earth II, which paid off with the highest ratings ever for a nature show in the U.S. (2.7 million total viewers across BBC America, AMC and SundanceTV), as well as 10 Emmy nominations. Says Barnett, "It couldn't happen to a nicer and more talented group of filmmakers."

  • Keli Lee (United States)

    When Lee segued from her role as executive vp casting at ABC Entertainment to running ABC Studios International's content and talent operation out of London, it was an acknowledgment of her success in finding and promoting diverse and global creative voices. Lee's ABC Discovers initiative, a globally focused talent recruiting program, served as a launchpad for the likes of 2014 Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, Randall Park of Fresh Off the Boat and Dania Ramirez of Devious Maids. Her advice for young women starting out: "It sounds cliche, but work harder than you've ever worked, be resilient and build relationships."

  • Belinda Menendez (United States)

    As if overseeing 15 offices and 176 territories around the globe wasn't enough, Menendez also has kept busy with a slew of recent deals. On the distribution side, the company inked pacts to bring NBC programming to Germany and Austria through a renewed deal with Sky; to Japan, where NBC's Golf Channel signed not one but two new distribution agreements ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo; and to the Middle East and Africa, where Starz Play Arabia inked a new deal for series including Mr. Robot, Bates Motel and Jennifer Lopez's Shades of Blue. Says Menendez: "I'd like to flag that I'm very proud that Comcast NBCUniversal was recently named as one of the best places for women to work in Fortune's 100 Best Workplaces for Women survey," she says. "Employee feedback cited the company's focus on integrity and commitment to creating an environment celebrating diversity and encouraging development."

  • Adriana Cisneros

    Cisneros, a graduate of the Harvard Business School's program for leadership development, is the third generation of her family to lead the Venezuelan Cisneros Group, one of the largest privately held media entertainment companies in the world. Cisneros Media, the company's oldest division, includes the network Venevision and several cable TV channels. Cisneros' company also handles distribution, production, record labels and concert promoting and recently started producing content for U.S. networks through its Mobius-Lab company. Says Cisneros, "To young women I always say, 'If you are in a company that doesn't value you as a woman, get out and find one that does.' "