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More room at the top for women in television, digital entertainment

  • British TV chef Nigella Lawson poses for the television show “Nigellissima” as part of MIPCOM at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes.

CANNES, France: Women are reshaping the landscape of TV and digital entertainment as more and more female executives clinch top industry jobs around the world, a shift on full display at this week’s MIPCOM audiovisual trade fair.

Held each year on the French Riviera at the same site as the Cannes Film Festival, MIPCOM brings together the movers and shakers of the global entertainment business to network, talk shop and buy, sell and finance new content.

Women have an increasingly strong presence in the field of more than 10,000 industry insiders who attend – including in some of the most powerful positions in the entertainment world.

“Times have changed and it’s easier in certain countries for women to rise to the top,” Cecile Frot-Coutaz, newly named chief executive of the global entertainment group FremantleMedia, told AFP as the show got under way. “Today, there are more women in our business than in other sectors, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom.”

This feminization of the industry was plain to see from the lineup of keynote speakers addressing the four-day show, which wraps up Thursday.

Nancy Dubac, president of entertainment and media at U.S. heavyweight cable and satellite channel A&E Networks, gave one of the first keynote speeches to a packed auditorium, followed by Andrea Wong, who heads up Sony Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

In a sign of the changing times, 150 top female TV executives came together for the 28-year-old trade fair’s first-ever “Power Lunch,” designed to enable women in entertainment to connect, network and expand business opportunities.

“I think with women in television, it’s a much more even mix today than it used to be,” said Marion Edwards, president of international TV at Fox Television.

Edwards argued that women often bring an added personal dimension to these high-powered positions.

“They have the ability to handle stress and be as tough as men but they also frequently bring emotional intelligence to negotiating and managing people that can add significantly to the process,” Edwards told MIPCOM News.

“We get the job done,” agreed Frot-Croutaz, who believes women bring a more pragmatic, less political approach than their male counterparts.

Academy award-winning director Jane Campion, in Cannes to talk about her first major move into TV drama with the New Zealand-set series “Top of the Lake,” also attended the lunch – but was less upbeat than most. “Statistics tell the story ... It’s not any easier today than before,” she said, adding that “You’re only as good as your last story.”

But attendees on the whole were optimistic about their chances of climbing to the top of the corporate ladder.

AETN All Asia Networks’s Michele Schofield told AFP the number of female entertainment executives in the sector was approaching 50 percent.

“Singapore and Hong Kong are very open-minded and accepting of women in senior positions, particularly in TV,” Schofield noted. “There is a whole generation of women giving a far higher priority to their careers.”

And while the top echelons of the Japanese audiovisual industry remain heavily male-dominated, a Japanese industry source told AFP things could change as growing numbers of ambitious younger women rise through the ranks.

Russia is a notable exception to the trend, even though it was considered normal for recent generations of women to be career-driven, said Margarita Simonyan, who in 2005 became the youngest ever editor-in-chief of the international TV network “Russia Today.”

“Back in the era of Communism, it was normal and even required for a woman to work and have a career,” she added. But there has been a shift in this trend recently, she told the gathering.

“We still don’t have that many female executives [in the audiovisual sector],” Simonyan commented, saying many Russian women today elect to focus on their families rather than their careers.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 12, 2012, on page 13.
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