The Top 25 Women in Global Television

6:30 AM 10/12/2018

by Scott Roxborough

One year since the rise of the #MeToo movement shook up Hollywood, women are changing the way the world watches TV, from Beijing to Burbank.

Industry Misogyny No More: Why The Future of Global Television Is Female -Illustration by Mattias Adolfsson-  H 2018
Illustration by Mattias Adolfsson

It's been exactly one year since the #MeToo movement shook up Hollywood — and the patriarchy worldwide.

Now the most powerful women in the international television industry say they are seeing the beginnings of real change in a business long dominated by straight white men. "#MeToo was a long-overdue reckoning of a systematic problem of misogyny at all levels of our industry," says Catherine Tait, the first woman to run the CBC, Canada's public broadcast giant. "At last we have the inclusion rider in our productions — thanks to Frances McDormand."

“People, men and women, have become a little more thoughtful, a little more reflective, in the boardroom, in hiring decisions, in the question of pay,” adds Rola Bauer, managing director of StudioCanal TV, noting however, that, in the television business, real power “comes from who controls the purse strings,” and advising ambitious women to "build their own thing" if they want to shake things up at the very top. "There is no such thing as a creative risk," says Anne Mensah, head of drama at Sky in the U.K. "Being boring is more likely to make an audience switch off than being creatively forward thinking. That’s got to be an exciting place to be."

Shaking things up is what the women on THR's annual list of the world's most powerful female television execs do best. They share their insights on the rapid changes in the global TV landscape and the challenges they face in continuing the push beyond the status quo.

Ariston Anderson, Patrick Brzeski, Agustin Mango, Rhonda Richford, Alex Ritman and Etan Vlessing contributed to this report.

  • Jo Porter

    Porter's long-running women's prison drama Wentworth (she is an executive producer) has sold across Europe, Africa and Asia, and Fremantle's upcoming miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock, starring a post-Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer, has racked up impressive broadcast partners, including BBC 2 in the U.K. and Amazon Prime in the U.S. "Taking Australian content to the world … and seeing our stories find passionate global audiences," she says, "is really encouraging."

  • Catherine Tait

    The first woman to run Canada's public broadcaster, Tait has been a key player in the Canadian (and U.S.) film and TV business for more than 30 years. Taking inspiration from the "huge brain and sense of humor" of personal heroes Madeleine Albright and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Tait sees her position as an opportunity to take an activist role by "reaching deep" to tell stories of women and Canadians as well as people from the indigenous and LGBTQ communities.

  • Ren Jing

    China's recent ban on foreign content in local primetime, as well as limiting foreign content on online platforms (to 30 percent), is certain to be a boost for such local production companies as Dragon TV, a leader in reality formats. Jing, who started as a journalist, sees a shortage of "fresh, creative ideas and original stories" as the biggest challenge facing the Chinese industry.

  • Xu Xiao'ou

    Xu is at the cutting edge of business developments in China. Linmon Pictures, established in 2014, has raised nearly 1 billion renminbi ($145 million) in a series of funding rounds from the likes of online giant Tencent and Chinese private-equity group Hony Capital. Despite her success with high-end TV drama series like A Love for Separation, Xu is not satisfied to rest on her laurels. "I always feel that I could have done more," she says.

  • Delphine Ernotte Cunci

    After a series of high-profile staff departures in 2017, Cunci spearheaded a raft of controversial changes, such as making children's channel France 4 online only and reportedly seeking to ax overseas channel France O as she aims to cut costs in total by more than $450 million by 2022. On the strategic side, Cunci has signed co-production accords with Italy's RAI and Germany's ZDF and helped set up SALTO, France's soon-to-launch local answer to Netflix.

  • Bibiane Godfroid

    Godfroid moved into the top spot at production heavyweight Newen in April after TF1 took full control of the company responsible for such series as the period epic Versailles and the gritty crime drama Braquo. Godfroid inherits a company that has grown — through buyouts of such shingles as France's Capa and Blue Spirit Productions and Dutch-based Tuvalu Media — to become one of Europe's leading indie TV groups. "The biggest challenge," she notes, "is to surround myself with talents that can answer, in France and abroad, the rapidly changing expectations of the public."

  • Rola Bauer

    The woman who can lay fair claim to inventing (or at least perfecting) the multiterritory co-production model that is now the go-to for much of international TV, Bauer continues to set standards. Her deal with Castle creators Andrew W. Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller for the crime procedural Take Two, starring Rachel Bilson, landed a straight-to-series order at ABC, and she brought together CanalPlus and Fox Network Group for a modern-day adaptation of H.G. Wells' sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds.

  • Anke Greifeneder

    Greifeneder studied law but chose a career in media over one in court, moving up through positions at German music channel Viva and Germany's Comedy Central before shifting to Turner Broadcasting in 2007, eventually taking over as director of original programs at Turner CEE. Greifeneder pioneered original programming in German pay TV, first with the dramedy Add a Friend on Turner's TNT channel and, more recently, with the award-winning 4 Blocks, a Sopranos-style Mafia tale that Amazon picked up worldwide. She also writes romance novels and children's books in her spare time while raising a family.

  • Eleonora Andreatta

    Andreatta is the first woman to run the drama division at Italy's pubweb giant, responsible for about 500 hours of programming annually. Under her leadership, RAI has pushed into big-budget co-productions, including My Brilliant Friend with HBO; Medici: Masters of Florence with Netflix and Germany's Beta Film; and The Name of the Rose with Germany's Tele Munchen Group and Sundance TV. "My opinion is that audiences are a lot more willing to be challenged and stimulated than what we once thought," she says.

    What was your first job in the industry?

    I started working in film distribution with a historical Italian name, Academy Pictures, which was involved with European quality cinema and independent American productions. It was an exciting and intense job, from one festival to another and all the timely care that requires launching a film.

    What is your proudest (professional) accomplishment?

    We joined the international market endowed with a vast range of experiences and credibility, and partners at the top of the most innovative and appreciated productions in the world, from HBO, AMC to Netflix, have decided to invest with us. The Medici, My Brilliant Friend and The Name of the Rose are three great co-productions, the result of this work, and testify to the greatness of Italian resources in terms of organization, management of complex operations, talents and professionalism. It is significant that it was a public broadcaster that engaged in this challenge and obtained these results, completely consistent with its mission. My opinion is that audiences are a lot more willing to be challenged and stimulated than what we once thought. This risk-taking is key to maintaining our relationship with the audience.

    What is the biggest challenge currently facing our industry?

    In recent years whirlwind change has descended on the TV series arena, in Italy as elsewhere. The highlights of world output tend to get here as soon as they are released in their country of origin, so that Italy too will have to adapt to a different rate of growth in audience quality and our own directors’ skills. The old scenario is undergoing a rapid reset; a considerable swath of audience is beginning to diversify and refine its taste and expectations. For a public service such as Rai it is not an easy challenge to compete in the global market. For picking up a niche audience on sharable topics is easier than devising a story that appeals to a broadly complex, culturally and sociologically diversified audience. By a dangerous cliche, public service TV series tends to get contrasted with modernity and innovation, as though no stimulating new product could belong to it. In actual fact public services have proved capable in recent years of creating products far more in line with the best international series. But we cannot afford to mark time: the productive and creative scene is constantly on the move.

  • Marina Berlusconi

    Daughter of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Marina has been executive chair of his international media group Fininvest since 2005, overseeing investments that include a majority stake in leading Italian publisher Mondadori and a 41 percent share in TV giant Mediaset. "The biggest challenge for the future is definitely staying competitive in a market that is radically changing," she says.

  • Ana Bond

    A lawyer by trade, Bond first made her mark at Hispanic media giant Telemundo, holding several positions, including running business affairs for the group's international division and serving as vp business and music affairs for the entire Telemundo Network Group. In April, she took over from Angelica Guerra as head of Sony Pictures TV's Latin American division, which operates across the region with such joint ventures as Colombia-based Teleset and Floresta in Brazil.

    What was your first job in the industry?

    Corporate counsel at Telemundo Network. I am actually a lawyer by trade. Please don’t hold that against me.
    Who is your inspiration and why?

    Amelia Earhart for pushing through all adversities and gender biases in doing what she believed in, against all odds.
    What is your proudest (professional) accomplishment?

    As I am always trying to push myself forward to the next challenge, I am proudest of my last achievement, a development deal that is brewing involving very strong leading women.
    What is the biggest challenge currently facing our industry?

    The changing landscape of media distribution and consumption. Finding the right balance between local and global content while staying relevant to our fragmented audience.
    What series, show or TV event, not from you or your company, did you most enjoy this year?

    Stranger Things. Finally, there was a series that I could watch with my preteen son and feel as engaged as him.

  • Adriana Cisneros

    As CEO of one of the largest privately held media entertainment companies in the world, Cisneros is well aware of her position as a role model for young women, particularly in the #MeToo era. "I believe the best way I can contribute to the cause is by leading by example," says the Columbia, NYU and Harvard Business School graduate, who owns a media empire that includes Venezuelan broadcast giant Venevision, multiple cable TV channels and a swath of distribution and production companies.

    What was your first job in the industry?

    I worked as an editor in our news department when I was 14.

    Who is your inspiration and why?

    [Investment AB Kinnevik chairwoman] Cristina Stenbeck. She is the media owner that evolves the quickest, always pushing the boundaries of innovation and never afraid of new frontiers.

    What is your proudest (professional) accomplishment?

    Successfully taking over as CEO of our company after restructuring our business.

    What is the biggest challenge currently facing our industry?

    Our children’s relationship to content and screens has absolutely nothing to do with the way that we consume media. I don’t care how cutting-edge you are as a media company, if you don’t want to or can’t understand why your 10-year-old prefers Fortnite over Netflix then you have a problem.
    What impact has the #MeToo movement had on our business?

    If any, it’s been a good one. #MeToo has set the stage to talk about these issues more freely — not only for women but also for men. Because I am a female CEO, I am now always being asked about this. I believe the best way I can contribute to the cause is by leading by example.

  • Angelica Guerra

    A veteran exec who ran production at Sony Pictures Television's Latin American and U.S. Hispanic divisions for the past five years, Guerra jumped to Apple in March. At Sony, she oversaw a slate of original primetime series that included Metastasis (the Spanish-language adaptation of Breaking Bad) as well as local-language versions of nonscripted formats from Shark Tank to X Factor and Got Talent.

  • Yolisha Phahle

    As the first black female boss of Africa's leading digital television group, Phahle sees her job as telling African stories, both for Africa and the world. While many broadcasters in the West see digital media as a threat to business, Phahle, speaking at the Digital Dialogue conference in Dubai in May, framed the digital revolution as a tremendous opportunity. "The digital age means we are in a position to take African stories to the world and create a global market for what we do," she says.

  • Georgia Brown

    Breaking from the strategy of former Amazon Studios boss Roy Price — who, before resigning amid sexual harassment allegations, had pushed to own series and films worldwide — Brown has put co-productions with established Euro broadcasters at the core of her approach. The British TV veteran says she draws inspiration from a younger generation of talent: "Someone who inspires me right now is [Killing Eve creator] Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Her writing is so incredibly raw."

  • Rebecca Campbell

    London-based Campbell has spent 20 years with Disney, building Disney/ABC Television Group's eight local TV stations and their digital assets while overseeing ABC National Television Sales and ABC Daytime. In January, she took on her first international role at the company, replacing Argentine executive Diego Lerner as president of Disney's operations in the European, Middle East and African regions. She oversees more than 5,000 employees and businesses in 46 markets.

  • Polly Hill

    Since moving in 2016 from the BBC to run ITV's drama department, Hill has specialized in high-profile series with a local touch that play as well at home as worldwide. Gurinder Chadha's India-set Beecham House, Kate Beckinsale starrer The Widow and working-class drama Cleaning Up are some of the highlights of her new slate. Says Hill, "The biggest challenge for us is cutting through when there is so much drama for audiences to watch across so many different platforms."

  • Jay Hunt

    The Australia-born, Cambridge-educated Hunt is the sole executive to have served as creative head of three networks in the U.K.: BBC One, Channel 4 and Channel 5. At Apple, she has the enviable position of helping shape a new global powerhouse — with the money to back it up. Apple has pledged to spend up to $1 billion this year making originals.

  • Maria Kyriacou

    Under Kyriacou's management, ITV Studios has become the fastest-growing production and distribution operation in the international TV business, reporting a 13 percent jump in revenue last year to $2.1 billion. "I'm inspired by everyone who shows no fear, remembers to have fun and treats all others with respect," she says.

  • Anne Mensah

    Comcast's $40 billion buyout of pay TV giant Sky represents a seismic shift in the European television scene and is being widely billed as the NBCUniversal parent's gambit to bulk up its original productions to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. When it comes to the U.K. at least, Sky is already there thanks to Mensah, who continues to set new standards for Brit-born series, including the period epic Britannia and the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer Patrick Melrose.

    What was your first job in the  industry?

    My first proper job in the industry was as a graduate management trainee at Carlton Television (ITV). Over the course of two years I was given the opportunity to do three-month placements in a range of departments across the whole of the company. As a newbie in TV I gained valuable insight into finance, scheduling, ad sales, community programming, research and, of course, drama. 

    Who is your inspiration and why?

    I find so many people inspirational but I’m particularly obsessed with Janelle Monae at the moment — not least because I saw her perform in London recently — but because her authenticity and talent shines through everything that she does. I am inspired by her personal sense of freedom and the positive energy she is putting out into the world.

    What is your proudest (professional) accomplishment?

    Launching Britannia (written by Jez Butterworth), Save Me (written and starring Lennie James) and Melrose (written by David Nichols and starring Benedict Cumberbatch) one after another on Sky Atlantic this year. I am so proud of each series, and I love the amazing teams that produce these unique shows.

    What series, show or TV event, not from you or your company, did you most enjoy this year?

    I admit it, I love Ninja Warrior UK. It’s required family viewing in my house.  We spend a lot of time discussing which obstacles we could and couldn’t achieve (obviously nothing in my case, but my 5-year-old is very confident about dangling). I think event television like the royal wedding that brings families and communities together is incredibly important and its impact on the audience is often underestimated.

  • Charlotte Moore

    Content boss Moore braved the traditionalists — and the trolls — to cast Jodie Whittaker as the first-ever female lead on the BBC flagship Doctor Who. Moore says she is emboldened by legendary BBC presenter David Attenborough "because he inspires me to push boundaries and take risks" and that her success in keeping the Beeb relevant has reinforced her determination to ensure "creativity always drives the agenda rather than algorithms."

  • Sophie Turner Laing

    Having successfully managed the 2014 merger of production/distribution giants Endemol and Shine, Turner Laing is now preparing for the next megamerger. Industry heavyweight Banijay Entertainment is in talks to acquire the production powerhouse behind Big BrotherMasterChef and Black Mirror in a deal that could value EndemolShine at up to $2 billion.

  • Jennifer Breslow

    Before Netflix, Breslow served as senior vp scripted at female-skewing cable network Lifetime, where she helped develop the cabler's hit UnREAL, and vp drama development at ABC, where she oversaw global champs Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. With Netflix pumping more cash into local programming —the company set up its first European production hub in Spain this year — Breslow's influence on the international scene only can increase.

  • Keli Lee

    Lee has been a fierce promoter of female talent. Recent projects greenlighted by her ABC Studios International banner include Margot Robbie's 10-part retelling the works of William Shakespeare from female perspectives and Reef Break, a crime drama starring Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) as a fixer for the governor of a Pacific Island nation. Reef Break received a 13-episode straight-to-series order from ABC and will be sold globally by Disney Media Distribution.

    What was your first job in the industry?

    My first job was working for casting directors, [the late] Phyllis Huffman and Olivia Harris at Warner Bros. in New York.

    Who is your inspiration and why?

    My mother inspires me. As a young Korean woman, she moved to the U.S. with my father and three young children not knowing the language, the culture or what the future would hold in a foreign land. A few years later, she was raising us on her own with no support of family or friends. She’s a great example of resilience and fortitude. And she’s never lost her enthusiasm for traveling, karaoke or dancing!

    What is your proudest (professional) accomplishment?

    Moving to London to establish and drive the international production business for ABC Studios has been a proud moment for me. Working to help identify new opportunities for content and talent on a global scale, and watching these ideas come to life is a hugely rewarding experience. A great example of this is Harrow, starring Ioan Gruffudd, which will return for a second season following on from the success of the first season in many markets. I’m also excited to be working on upcoming projects like the new crime drama Reef Break, starring Poppy Montgomery; The Gloaming, a new series created by Victoria Madden (The Kettering Incident); and a series with Margot Robbie’s production company, among others.  

    What is the biggest challenge currently facing our industry?

    A challenge and an opportunity at once — there is such a wide range of great television being produced that it is important for us to continue creating shows to the highest level to make sure we stand out, and to stand out in the constant scrum to attract talent behind and in front of the camera. The industry has become increasingly competitive — but this, in turn, has driven up standards.

    What series, show or TV event, not from you or your company, did you most enjoy this year?

    Killing Eve and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

  • Belinda Menendez

    The $40 billion takeover of European pay TV giant Sky, with its 23 million subscribers, by NBCUniversal parent Comcast adds another big piece to Menendez's global broadcasting puzzle. Running the studio's broadcasting and licensing business (which draws from a library of some 120,000 episodes of TV and more than 4,500 feature films), she is tasked with transitioning NBCU through what she calls "the disruption impacting the legacy business models" to an on-demand, digital future.

    A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.