Torrential rains didn’t dampen the spirits of the guest at MIPCOM’s third annual Women in Global Entertainment networking event, hosted by The Hollywood Reporter in partnership with Lifetime at the Majestic hotel in Cannes. The panel featured international executives including Maker Studios chief content officer Erin McPherson, Ebony Life TV executive chair and CEO Mo Abudu, ABC Entertainment evp Keli Lee and Jana Bennett, president of FYI and LMN channels at A+E networks.
Outgoing Disney/ABC president Anne Sweeney opened the session with remarks. “Many women continue to change and evolve the television landscape. I’m reminded of the power and the privilege that all of us in this industry have, of the great gift of telling stories that can inspire, educate, thrill and entertain. This is how I want women to be judged. This is how I want to be judged. Not by our gender by our ability to tell and execute great stories,” she said, citing showrunner Shonda Rimes as an inspiration.
The group, moderated by THR senior editor Stacey Wilson, talked about their non-traditional and diverse backgrounds of journalism, human resources, law and philosophy before moving into entertainment, and how having different perspectives in gender and ethnicity are enlivening entertainment.
Abudu said she had been influenced to launch the first pan-African channel after a conversation with Hillary Clinton in which the former secretary of state told her that she would need to create the platform if she wanted the stereotype of Africa to change. The channel is now developing a local version of the Desperate Housewives format, along with news and other original programming.
McPherson addressed the merging of Maker and Disney brands, while over 50 percent of their users are on mobile and 70 percent are millennials. “What’s been really exciting is the great coming together of Disney brands and the Maker community, so we’re in the process of cross-pollinating. Our network offers the opportunity for everyone to have a voice and to create.”
“Numbers really matter,” said Bennett, citing gender and ethnic diversity as a huge driver of creativity and the authenticity audiences crave at a time when networks are competing with channels and online for eyeballs. “We have to have diverse opinions, as is different forms of just life experience, ethnicity — these all make television richer. The whole of TV is changing quite rapidly.”
Christela, Blackish, and Fresh off the Boat were cited as recent hits where diversity is a factor in its success, but not the focus of the show that might off put viewers. “These passion projects are mostly personal family experiences. Those three happen to be a Latino family, an African-American family and an Asian family. What’s remarkable about those three shows, it’s not a show about ethnicity; it’s a show about family that is relatable to all,” said Lee.
At Maker, the company strives for diversity and gender equality, and McPherson cited the success of the gamer Dodger who is female in the male-dominated gameplay space, but has an equal 50-50 male-female audience. She also cited millenials that have grown up in a more diverse environment: “With twentysomethings multiculturalism is the norm. They are fairly color blind and gender blind. I’m really heartened by what is coming up.”