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Women hotshots in the media biz

By Helen Coster, Forbes
September 07, 2006 13:14 IST
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For female media executives breaking through the glass ceiling, times have never been more stressful, with the entire sector undergoing a seismic shift.

More consumers are buying their entertainment online. Movie studios seem stuck in a creative rut as the independent studios bear down on them with more interesting offerings. Network television execs face the growing array of content offerings from broadband and digital media, not to mention migraines from ad-skipping devices such as TiVo. On top of all of this, network television, cable and print media execs face growing problems as ad dollars shift to the Internet.

For the female Hollywood hotshots who have broken through the celluloid ceiling, flops can lead to high-profile career meltdowns. The Walt Disney Co. shoved out Nina Jacobson, the head of live-action production at its Walt Disney studios and No. 94 on last year's list of the World's Most Powerful Women, after misfires such as the The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Alamo.

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Television execs have their own problems. Anne Sweeney, who runs the Disney-ABC Television Group, a unit of Walt Disney, grapples with stiff competition from wireless and cable. To fight back, last October ABC became the first network to sell downloadable television shows on iTunes, though it's still unclear whether viewers will want to watch the shows 24-7 on such small screens. Such innovation is balanced by waning interest in ABC's two biggest hits. Both Lost and Desperate Housewives are losing viewers.

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Over in print media, Janet Robinson, chief executive of The New York Times Co, plans to shrink the width of its flagship paper and cut 250 jobs in the face of a dismal profit picture. Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive of magazine publisher Time Inc, faces growing pressure as ad revenue is showing signs of chronic fatigue syndrome due to the march of advertisers to the Web. Fears of even more layoffs are now a perennial worry in the Time Inc building.

There are plenty of bright spots, though. In television, Katie Couric captured the top anchor spot at The CBS Evening News, paving the way for Meredith Vieira to take over her position on The Today Show, where she's taking on Diane Sawyer over at Good Morning America. Oprah Winfrey's media empire is firing on all cylinders, after she beat back a firestorm of controversy by confronting author James Frey on the air over the myriad lies in his book A Million Little Pieces, which Winfrey had previously praised.

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In movies, Amy Pascal, chairman of the Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, is trying to repair the studio's sagging reputation, with box-office successes like the Spiderman series and The Da Vinci Code.

Gail Berman, president of Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom, has shrewdly laid low during the studio's highly publicized fight with Tom Cruise as she attempts to turn around the studio. Paramount has more than 2,500 titles in its library, including Titanic, the highest-grossing film of all time.

Nancy Tellem, president of the CBS Paramount Television Network Entertainment Group, a unit of CBS, is winning kudos as she attempts to improve programming for the CBS network and for CW, the newly merged network of WB and UPN. At Warner Brothers, Tellem helped develop hit shows like ER and Friends, and at CBS she's been responsible for Survivor and the powerhouse franchise CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Judy McGrath is making changes at MTV Networks, a unit of Viacom, as the $7 billion company pursues digital dollars. MTV owns four broadband channels and has plans to launch a digital music service developed out of a partnership with software giant Microsoft.

Hearst Magazines under the stewardship of Cathleen Black, dubbed the "First Lady of American Magazines," is still powering ahead with 20 titles including O, The Oprah Magazine and an aggressive expansion overseas and on the Internet.

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