Worldwide progress at the executive level has been slower, but as The Hollywood Reporter’s list of the most powerful women in international television illustrates, female executives are established in the C-suites of many of the world’s most influential media companies.
THR and A+E Networks are set to celebrate the women on this year’s list during MIPCOM, the annual global TV market in Cannes, where they are co-hosting the 11th Women in Global Entertainment Power Lunch at the Majestic Hotel recently.
Our list, which highlights non-American female executives and creatives based outside the United States, makes no claims to be definitive, but the hope is these women’s success stories can act as both example and inspiration for a brighter future for the global film and television business.
Mo Abudu (THR’s Top International Woman Executive in Entertainment)
CEO, EbonyLife Media (Nigeria)
Mo Abudu was a late arrival to the entertainment industry. The London-born, Lagos-based CEO of Nigerian film and TV group EbonyLife Media had a successful career at oil giant ExxonMobil — rising to head of human resources —before deciding, in her mid-40s, that she wanted more.
“Lots of people probably thought it was a mid-life crisis, me waking up and choosing to get into the world of media,” says Abudu, 60, from her home in Lagos. “But I think there was something deep down in my soul that I felt there was a real need, in Africa, for local content, and local storytelling. Because we’ve been fed and fed and fed international content that isn’t about us, it’s not representative of who we are. And, as Africans, I felt we have to tell our own stories.”
Abudu’s first media move was Inspire Africa, an education-meets-entertainment company that launched Moments With Mo, Africa’s first syndicated daily talk show, which Abudu hosted, earning her the moniker of “Africa’s Oprah Winfrey.”
“I remember I was interviewing Hillary Clinton, and I asked her: ‘How do we change this stereotypical view of Africa and Africans on TV’,” Abudu recalls. “And she said: ‘We need more people like you speaking on behalf of the continent. Because if you don’t, no one else will.’”
Inspired, Abudu launched EbonyLife, first as a linear African pay-TV network, later segueing to full-time content production—her company has produced three of the five highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time — just as global studios and streamers began to recognize the potential of Africa as a market.
EbonyLife was the first African company, in 2020, to sign a multi-film and TV deal with Netflix — the company’s first Nigerian Netflix series, Blood Sister, racked up 11 million global viewing hours —and the group now has productions in development with Sony, Universal, AMC and Lionsgate, among others. In March, Abudu joined forces with Idris Elba and his Green Door Pictures label to launch a film and TV joint venture to back new projects and up-and-coming talent from Africa and the African diaspora.
“Idris believes in the notion of partnership,” she says, “he’s been incredibly successful around the world and he’s ready to invest in a continent that still needs his help to build, because he recognizes that he needs to plant those seeds now, and in the years to come, he is going to have a first mover advantage.”
Abudu is inspired by the example of Afrobeats, the music genre, developed out of West Africa, that has gone on to conquer the world. “The same can happen in the world of film, of TV,” she says, pointing to the recent success of Nigerian thriller The Black Book (not an EbonyLife production), which topped Netflix’s global charts following its Sept. 22 release.
Back home, Abudu and EbonyLife are investing in the future, through programs like the EbonyLife Creative Academy, a Lagos-based film and TV training school teaching everything from scriptwriting and directing to cinematography, costume and sound design, and through efforts to link up producers, creatives and investors across the continent. Earlier this year the U.K. government named her a Creatives Champion for the UK-African Investment Summit, to be held in London in April next year, tasking her with bringing together industry stakeholders across Africa to boost collaboration in the creative sector.
“I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and I’ve been saying the same thing from the start: That storytelling for people like me, that have been left out of the industry, is going to be important,” she says, “people are starting to recognize that, you can see that international stories, including African stories, are shaping global culture. But there’s still the key challenges of access to funding [and] access to gatekeepers? How can we get them to let us in the room?”
Zeinab Abu Alsamh
Saudi general manager, MBC Studios (Saudi Arabia)
MBC Studios, the high-end production arm of Arab satellite giant MBC Group, has been making major advances in recent years, most notably in its home country of Saudi Arabia, where a burgeoning film and TV industry has emerged. Heading up the Saudi operation and at the forefront of the local boom is Abu Alsamh, who has helped spearhead a growing slate of local shows, including the country’s most ambitious TV drama yet, the upcoming Rise of the Witches.
Maria Pia Ammirati
Director, Rai Fiction (Italy)
A former journalist and film critic, Ammirati has been at Rai since 1992 but really began to shake things up at the staid Italian public broadcaster after moving to its fiction department in 2020 and taking over as director of Rai Fiction two years ago. Under her leadership, Rai has become a lot cooler — with award-winning drama series like My Brilliant Friend, made in collaboration with HBO — and younger, with the hit teen drama The Sea Beyond, which has drawn under-20 audiences back to the network. Ammirati also has been active in boosting opportunities for female creatives in Italy’s male-dominated industry. “There are still too few [women in TV], so at Rai we are focusing a lot on them,” she says.
Head of pan-English scripted SVOD TV, development & series, Amazon Prime Video (Germany)
After Amazon’s $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM closed in March 2022, Bauer, the veteran television producer and multi-Emmy nominee (The Pillars of the Earth, The Man Who Fell to Earth), who’d been president of MGM’s international TV operations, was bumped up at the streamer. In her new remit at Amazon, she oversees development and production of a new slate of English-language originals made outside the U.S. With budgets tightening across the board, expect Bauer’s expertise in cross-border international co-productions — a model she helped pioneer — to be more in demand than ever.
CEO, Conspiração Filmes (Brazil)
As head of one of Brazil’s largest independent production outfits — taking over as CEO of Conspiração Filmes in 2016 — Brandão has helped make the Rio de Janeiro-based outfit a byword for excellence in both film and TV. Conspiração has racked up the most international Emmy nominations (10) of any independent production house in Latin America. Brandão says Conspiração is now pursuing an expansion strategy targeting the Mexican market: “The idea is to bring Conspiração’s full-integrated studio structure from Brazil to Mexico to produce from there and also embark on co-productions.”
Managing director, Japan; Executive VP, APAC, integrated marketing & local original production, Disney (Asia)
A true Disney veteran, Choi has assumed myriad leadership roles in Asia-Pacific (APAC) since joining the House of Mouse in 2006, including running franchise marketing across the region, leading consumer marketing in greater China and running the company’s Korea business. Today, she wears two hats: As a managing director in Disney’s Tokyo office, she oversees the company’s vast businesses in Japan, including its studio and direct-to-consumer divisions. She also is instrumental to Disney’s streaming ambitions across the whole region, serving as head of integrated marketing and local original production. “Although it has only been two years since we embarked on local content production, we already have a full slate of APAC content until next year,” Choi says. “[We] are gaining incredible consumer traction and industry recognition.”
Co-founder, chief creative officer, Sister (U.K.)
Given the level of its activity and output, it feels insane to think that Featherstone founded Sister (alongside Stacey Snider and Elisabeth Murdoch) only in 2019. The Emmy-winning Chernobyl was the first out of the blocks, followed by Landscapers, Gangs of London and last year’s BAFTA-winning This Is Going to Hurt, plus numerous investments in production companies, TV tech startups, comic book publishers and even London music venues. This year, Netflix content veteran Cindy Holland joined the company as CEO, replacing Snider, who stepped down. “Whether it’s visionary creators, extraordinary acting talent or broadcast partners and buyers, we have built a home people come back to, time and time again,” says Featherstone.
Director of fiction series, Netflix España (Spain)
A screenwriter of female-focused Spanish thriller series including Hache and Intimacy, Fernández joined Netflix’s Spain operations as an exec in 2019, rising to director of originals for Spain and Portugal a year later. Under her watch, Netflix’s studio hub in Tres Cantos, outside Madrid, has more than doubled its capacity and put the streamer on track to hit its goal of producing 30 series, movies and nonfiction shows in Spain annually.
Laura Fernández Espeso
CEO, The Mediapro Studio (Spain)
Fernández Espeso has been a key factor in Mediapro’s national and global expansion, taking over as CEO in 2020 and pushing the company — which by its own estimates is responsible for up to a quarter of primetime TV programming in Spain — deeper into film. Her foray includes Javier Bardem starrer The Good Boss, Official Competition with Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, and coming on board as a co-producer on high-end series like HBO’s The New Pope.
Country manager, Dynamo (Mexico)
A longtime producer for Colombian group Dynamo (which earned its international cred as a production services provider on Netflix’s Narcos), Florez took over as Dynamo’s country manager in Mexico in 2019. Since then, moving from Bogota to Mexico City, she’s built the division into a Latin American hub, and helped drive a push into high-end series as varied as Amazon’s Latino Western The Head of Joaquín Murrieta and S.O.Z. Soldiers of Zombies and Netflix racing series Pedal to Metal, about a mechanic and illegal car racer who returns to his Mexico City neighborhood to rebuild his father’s criminal empire. Says Florez: “The biggest challenge facing producers right now is how to make films and series that stand out in the sea of content that is being poured out by platforms. Thinking about how to make something different and impactful to audiences is, to me, the big question of the moment.”
CEO, Sky Studios (U.K.)
The French industry leader has continued to expand her purview since taking over management of the scripted production arm of Comcast’s European giant Sky (Gangs of London, The Lazarus Project) in September 2021. Sky Studios also opened the final soundstage of its state-of-the-art production facility Sky Studios Elstree, near London, in 2023, and has further expanded its original content slate, with dramas scheduled for 2024 including The Tattooist of Auschwitz starring Harvey Keiteland an Eddie Redmayne-led remake of The Day of the Jackal.
Creative director, See-Saw Films (U.K.)
Already a veteran of British TV with credits including The Child in Time, Fortitude and Gangs of London, Gregory joined prestige tastemakers See-Saw Films in 2021, just as the noted production company behind Oscar-winning features The King’s Speech and The Power of the Dog was making a major move onto the small screen (having already tested the waters with The Top of the Lake). Hit shows such as Netflix’s Heartstopper and Apple TV+’s Slow Horses have followed, with Gregory saying she’s proud to have helped “challenge the assumptions of what makes a ‘See-Saw project’ within the creative community, the industry and ourselves.”
CEO, Telepool (Germany)
The Munich-based Telepool — one of Europe’s leading content groups whose library includes German rights to such features as the Has Fallen and Hitman’s Bodyguard franchises, along with the Oscar-nominated King Richard — is owned by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook. In addition to overseeing distribution, licensing and international sales (Telepool’s sales division, Global Screen, will pitch hotly anticipated spy drama Davos 1917 at MIPCOM this year), Higuchi-Zitzmann is tasked with expanding Telepool’s production arm to create synergies between Westbrook’s Hollywood connections and Telepool’s European base. The goal: to do bigger-budget international co-productions.
Writer-producer and co-founder, Merman (Ireland)
Horgan’s well-established status as one of the most sharply funny TV creators around reached a whole new level with Apple TV+‘s hit Bad Sisters. The delightfully macabre comedy-drama — which she wrote, produced and stars in — garnered four Emmy nominations (including one for Horgan as outstanding lead actress), and is already in production on season two. She also created the HBO show Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, the recent Starz horror comedy Shining Vale, starring Courteney Cox, and has several upcoming projects in the works, including shows with Hulu and Amazon.
Creative director, worldwide video, Europe, for Apple (U.K.)
If you are among the rabid fans of Idris Elba’s Hijack, Sharon Horgan’s Bad Sisters or Gary Oldman’s team of spies in Slow Horses, you can thank Hunt. The former Channel 4 top executive’s team has scored hits with global appeal since 2017. Apple TV+ also notched a record 15 BAFTA TV and Craft Award nominations, with four wins, including the best drama series honor for Bad Sisters. Plus, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse won the Oscar for best animated short and the best British short animation award at the BAFTAs.
VP anime production, Crunchyroll (Japan)
Iijima joined U.S.-based anime streamer Funimation in 2019 — just before the company was acquired by Sony in a $1.2 billion deal. The two entities have since merged with Sony’s in-house anime streamer Crunchyroll to become the world’s leading anime specialty service. At Crunchyroll, Iijima oversees the production of all anime originals. In just the past year, her team has produced 45 TV series, and has 50 co-produced shows in the works for 2024. Says Iijima: “Anime is a $20 billion dollar industry with millions of global fans and no signs of slowing down.”
VP content for Asia Pacific, Netflix (South Korea/Japan)
Kim has become Netflix’s de facto hitmaker in the vital growth markets of East Asia, helping the streamer become the premiere destination for globally bankable Korean content. In the past year, on top of overseeing all Netflix content in the Asia-Pacific region except for India, she has relocated to Tokyo to help bolster the company’s Japan content team. “After years building our Korea team and slate,” says Kim, “it’s exciting for me to see Japan shining bright on the world stage.”
Vice chair, CJ Group (South Korea)
In 1995, Lee and her brother Jay Lee, heirs to South Korea’s CJ Group conglomerate, which originally specialized in food products, embarked on a bold diversification by making a major equity investment in Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen’s startup studio, DreamWorks SKG. The siblings then leveraged that Hollywood exposure to build CJ ENM into a driving force behind the Korean cultural wave that continues to sweep the globe. Lee’s ambition remains undimmed — CJ ENM bought out Endeavor Content last year, renaming the production banner Fifth Season, and continues to ramp up its global production output.
Founder and CEO, Saram Entertainment (South Korea)
Saram Entertainment has grown to represent some of the biggest young stars associated with Korean entertainment’s ongoing surge in global popularity. Saram’s large stable of talent under representation includes Hoyeon Jung, the biggest breakout star of Squid Game and an increasingly ubiquitous fashion trendsetter; Kim Sung-kyu, the lead of Kingdom, Netflix’s first Korean series hit; and Kim Min-ha, star of Apple TV’s critically acclaimed period drama Pachinko.
CEO, StudioCanal; Deputy CEO, Canal+ Group (France)
Speaking at television confab MIPTV in Cannes in April, Marsh sounded the warning signal that the “TV bubble” had burst, that the boom period of “endless shows and lots of green lights after very short development periods” has given way to a more cost-conscious era in which broadcasters and streamers are more focused on the bottom line. Not that French production powerhouse StudioCanal needs to worry much. Upcoming titles include Paddington in Peru and the genre-bending, globe-trotting thriller series How to Stop Time, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and produced together with the actor’s StudioCanal-backed outfit Sunnymarch.
CEO, ITV (U.K.)
McCall has led the U.K. TV giant since 2018, transforming it for the digital age. Freemium streamer ITVX launched in late 2022 with such originals as Cold War drama A Spy Among Friends, starring Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce. McCall touts “over 2 billion streams and a significant increase in users,” emphasizing that the service “has accelerated our ability to transform ITV to be the leader in U.K. advertiser-funded streaming.
VP U.K. content, Netflix (U.K.)
From Sex Education to docs about Robbie Williams and David Beckham, and prestige dramas like The Crown and Black Mirror, London-based TV veteran Mensah and her team keep bringing global fans the Brit hits. “The future is even stronger,” the former BBC and Sky exec vowed at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August. Upcoming series include Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen, with Theo James.
Chief content officer, BBC (U.K.)
Since 2020, Moore has overseen the U.K. broadcaster’s TV, radio, sports, education and children’s content, becoming one of the most highly respected — and powerful — individuals in global TV. While navigating an ongoing funding squeeze, she consistently underlines the BBC’s position as the home for prestige output, this year thanks to shows such as Happy Valley and high-end, risk-taking productions like The Reckoning, about notorious sex offender Jimmy Savile, with Steve Coogan in the lead role.
CEO, Banijay Rights (U.K.)
Australia-born, London-based Payne rose up through the ranks of the international TV biz before landing at her current position, as of 2020, heading Banijay Rights, the distribution arm of the world’s largest indie production company. The dual Hollywood strikes had a minimal impact on Banijay, which only just entered the U.S. drama market, via a strategic investment in Cris Abrego and Eva Longoria’s new media company Hyphenate Media — but she has been an outspoken advocate of creatives’ rights in every territory where her company operates. “There are similar issues everywhere,” she says. “Everybody just wants a fairer share of the pie.”
Head of India originals, Amazon (India)
Purohit began her path in entertainment as a radio DJ, hosting a popular New Delhi show about cinema culture. This taste of the business led her to pursue a career in the film industry of Mumbai, where she spent five years as a creative producer at production shingle Mumbai Mantra Media. She joined Amazon Prime Video in 2016 as the company’s first head of creative development in India. Later, she transitioned to the role of head of India originals. Recent successes released during her tenure include popular dramas like Jubilee, the docuseries AP Dhillon: First of a Kind and crime shows such as Bambai Meri Jaan, Dancing on the Grave and Dahaad. Amazon’s India slate also spans dozens of titles coming to the service over the next two years.
CEO, Telefilm Canada (Canada)
Canada’s top film financier, Telefilm Canada made waves in March by naming Roy as its new head for a five-year term. Part of Roy’s challenge will be to continue closing the Canadian industry’s gender gap by advancing and promoting talent from the country’s underrepresented Black, Indigenous and people-of-color communities. “By creating new relationships and building on existing partnerships, we must continue to listen, increase our understanding and establish trust,” says Roy. “Trust is absolutely essential when working collectively toward a common goal to be more equitable, inclusive and sustainable.”
VP content, Netflix (India)
In her two-decade career in entertainment, Shergill has led Indian programming for leading global networks such as Star, Sony and Viacom18. She joined Netflix in July 2019 and oversees the development, creation, licensing and acquisition of all Indian-language content on Netflix. Early successes in the territory have included Darlings, Khakee: The Bihar Chapter, Guns and Gulaabs and the Oscar-winning documentary short The Elephant Whisperers.
Founder and chief executive, Quay Street Productions (U.K.)
One of the most respected TV producers in the U.K. thanks to her regular work with creators such as Russell T. Davies and Sally Wainwright, Shindler left Red Production Company in 2021 to set up Quay Street Productions. Since then, she’s reteamed with Davies on ITV’s Nolly and has landed major commissions from Netflix and Disney+. “Be confident in your ideas and opinions, never feel you should wait for someone else to speak first, know when to listen, and, as with everyone, work really hard,” she offers as advice to young women entering the industry.
Adriana “Dida” Silva
VP and managing director, international production, Floresta (Brazil)
Silva can look back on a quarter-century in the TV business, starting as a producer of soaps and entertainment shows and steadily climbing the career ladder to her current job (from 2021) at Floresta, the São Paulo-based production company owned by Sony Pictures Television. One of the country’s top small-screen producers, Floresta supplies free-to-air, pay TV and streaming platforms with shows that span the spectrum from reality programming — Queer Eye Brazil for Netflix, Ex on the Beach: Caribbean for MTV Brazil — to dramas like the HBO Max teen series Use Your Voice and family sitcom Game Crashers, which airs on Grupo Globo’s kids channel Gloob.
President and CEO, Ontario Creates (Canada)
As head of Ontario Creates, which markets the province to Hollywood as a foreign location destination, Thorne-Stone has also overseen a studio boom in the province as major studios and streamers shoot locally in record numbers. Says Thorne-Stone: “Ontario’s creative industries have continued to thrive, and our film and television production hit record levels last year. In early 2023, we released a new strategic plan that lays out a roadmap to sustain that growth in the years ahead.”
Co-founder and CEO, Bad Wolf (U.K.)
The Wales-based production juggernaut continues to go strong with the likes of epic The Winter King, based on Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling Warlord Chronicles books, and Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who series. And Tranter herself has also kept up other work, serving as an executive producer on HBO hit Succession. Upcoming series include Dope Girls, a drama about a female crime boss in the London underworld, and the plane thriller Red Eye, starring Richard Armitage.
CEO, All3Media (U.K.)
The global behemoth led by the veteran CEO produces 4,000 hours of content annually. All3Media is also in the midst of a sales process started by co-owners Warner Bros. Discovery and Liberty Global. “All3 is an incredible business,” Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said in September. “We love Jane, we love what All3Media does.” Observes Turton: “It is a fantastic time to be a woman coming into the television industry. Always challenging, but definitely a time when talented women are needed in senior roles. It is good for business.” Read more.
Even before the rise of the streamers, crime drama Happy Valley was one of a handful of British TV shows to amass a major following in the United States and along the way, raised the writing bar several notches. The much celebrated third and final season, which landed in 2023 a full six years after the second, firmly cemented Wainwright — who in the meantime had made Gentleman Jack for the BBC and HBO — as one of TV’s most talented creatives.
Head of U.S. operations, Wowow (Japan)
Washio began her career at Wowow, Japan’s leading pay TV broadcaster, in dual roles: She worked in the company’s sales division, bringing titles to international markets, and she served as an interviewer for Wowow’s flagship movie channel, hosting sit-downs with A-list Hollywood stars as they introduced their work to the Japanese audience. As her relationships in the U.S. grew, she arranged for Wowow to co-produce a number of prestigious documentary projects, such as Martin Scorsese’s The 50 Year Argument: The New York Review of Books and Robert Redford and Wim Wenders’ six-part TV series Cathedrals of Culture. More recently, Washio arranged for Wowow to co-produce HBO Max’s Japan-set yakuza thriller Tokyo Vice, which recently completed shooting its second season on location in Japan.
CEO and founder, Xixi Pictures (China)
Despite the profound interruptions of the pandemic, Yang has built Xixi Pictures into a television powerhouse in China over the course of just three short years since the studio’s launch in 2020. Having produced a string of hit dramas that tap into either the ambitions of young, urban women or pride in traditional Chinese culture, Yang is now working to take Chinese TV global. “I aspire to lead Xixi Pictures in exploring an effective pathway that represents our national identity and core culture while also achieving wide acceptance in the global film and TV market,” she says. “This will enable Chinese stories to be showcased vividly on an international scale.”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter