Every year, people ask us how we decide who should be included in our lists of top executives, and where they should fall. To be sure, each of our annual lists — Most Influential Women, Most Powerful Minorities and The CableFAX 100 — involves much horse-trading, compromising and tweaking down to the wire, as our editors and columnists debate the relative merits, successes and fortunes of the candidates. That certainly was the case with the lists we present here, whose members remind us of the adage that everything Fred Astaire did, Ginger Rogers did backward (and in high heels). This is an impressive group of cable’s female movers and shakers.

Somehow, these women, and many who don’t appear on these lists, find time to serve on boards, lobby on the Hill and mentor, besides bringing home the bacon through increased distribution, digital extensions, buzz-worthy programming and marketing. As if their day jobs weren’t hectic enough, they’re also moms, wives, girlfriends, sisters, best friends, travelers, athletes and community volunteers.

Certainly, professional success, promotions, honors and achievements count. But we also look at the whole picture of each individual, like college admissions officers, to gauge the vagaries of being a standout star in the cable firmament, particularly during these tumultuous times of changing models and fierce competition. Once we’ve decided who’s made our list, we approach the thankless job of ranking the Top 50.

Some final words about this package: The Top 50 (p. 15) and Second 50 (p. 30) are presented similarly to the way they were in last year’s edition; the Second 50 are listed alphabetically. Once again you’ll also find a list of top women in the technology field (pp. 28-29). In addition we’ve provided an interview with our cover subject, AETN chief Abbe Raven (p. 18), and a short profile of five fabulous women running things in Silver Spring, MD (p. 32). On pages 24 and 26 is a list of more worthy women with clout. We’ve included the departing Gerry Laybourne to represent women who are leaving cable, like Deborah Blackwell and Antoinette Zel, or retiring, like Lynn Yaeger and Judy Girard. Finally, no tribute to women executives in cable would be complete without mentioning the foresight of the late Jim Robbins (p. 4). — Shirley Brady and Seth Arenstein

The Top 50

  

[1] ANNE SWEENEY
CO-CHAIR, DISNEY MEDIA NETWORKS & PRESIDENT, DISNEY-ABC TV GROUP
Sweeney topped this year’s ratings-busting High School Musical 2, a global and U.S. TV smash, with the red-hot ticket Hannah Montana on Disney Channel, which now reaches more than 600 million viewers in 127 countries. Following star Miley Cyrus’s sold-out concert tour, Hannah Montana was the #1 Halloween costume this year, outselling Harry Potter and other competitors for kids’ affections. Sweeney’s vision and marketing savvy helped Disney spin such tween dreams into gold and create a pop culture phenomenon around the world.

 

[2] JUDY McGRATH
CHAIRMAN & CEO, MTV NETWORKS
Having seen mentor Tom Freston and other pals from MTV’s early days exit in restructuring over the past 18 months, McGrath has kept her brands relevant and irreverent through a deeply held belief that music can change the world, as it did hers. That spirit infuses MTVN’s on-air and off-air efforts, rallying viewers to vote, creating the Think public affairs initiative and weaving AIDS, Darfur and other hard-hitting subjects into MTVN’s pop mix.

[3] DEBRA LEE
CHAIRMAN & CEO, BET NETWORKS
Lee has overseen a revolution at BET, which has been racking up the highest ratings in its 27-year history with its biggest investment in original programming (under BET Entertainment president Reginald Hudlin) to date, with hits like College Hill and American Gangster generating record revenues for the house that Bob built. Shes not done yet: Stay tuned for 16 series premieres in the next year, including BET’s first live- action scripted series, Somebodies.

[4] ABBE RAVEN
PRESIDENT & CEO, A&E TELEVISION NETWORKS
Since taking the top job two years ago, Raven has made A&E a top 10 network (again) and lowered its media age by almost two decades. A&E’s networks now reach more than 235 million homes worldwide — and this fall is launching a crop of HD channel spin-offs. She has also kept on top of changing consumer behavior by creating a digital lounge for her execs to play with new platforms.

[5] JILL CAMPBELL
SVP, EASTERN DIVISION OPERATIONS, COX
The highest-ranking female executive in U.S. cable operations, Campbell is responsible for overseeing Cox’s cable systems serving approximately 2.1 million customers. In addition to serving as immediate past chair of the WICT Foundation, Campbell still serves on its board of trustees. She has received numerous accolades for her work at Cox (where she started as a communications director in Oklahoma City in 1982), including being named Woman of the Year by WICT’s Atlanta chapter.

[6] MELINDA WITMER
CHIEF PROGRAMMING OFFICER, TIME WARNER CABLE
Since taking over Fred Dressler’s old job as head of programming for Time Warner Cable at the start of this year, Witmer has put her own mark on the country’s #2 cable operator by building her team and forging closer relationships with programmers to enhance the company’s VOD and ITV platforms. She has also pushed for divisions to have more say in local programming choices in order to better compete in their markets.

[7] AMY BANSE
PRESIDENT, COMCAST INTERACTIVE MEDIA
Banse is the most senior woman at Comcast, where her most recent challenge was launching CIM in 2005. Besides establishing original online brands including Ziddio and overseeing Comcast.net, this year she spearheaded negotiations with Yahoo for online display and video advertising, acquired Fandango and launched Fancast, a multiplatform entertainment portal. Next up: integrating these brands and services across various platforms and devices to make Comcast’s menu of content portable, fluid and must-have.

[8] NOMI BERGMAN
EVP, STRATEGY AND DEVELOPMENT, ADVANCE/NEWHOUSE COMMUNICATIONS
Advance/Newhouse’s Bright House Networks cable unit stays ahead of bigger operators on the cutting-edge tech front because of Bergman’s vision and leadership. She cut her teeth on all aspects of cable operations, from the tech side to IT, customer service and billing operations. She now oversees Bright House’s broadband data services, advanced technologies and strategic initiatives. Bergman also makes time to be active in WICT, CableLabs, NCTA, SCTE and CTAM.

[9] AMY TYKESON
PRESIDENT & CEO, BENDBROADBAND
Tykeson shared the NCTA’s 2007 Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership with Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, a nod to her successes as an operator — BendBroadband has led the industry in launching high-speed data, digital cable, HD, VOD, digital simulcast and digital phone — and to her work as a board member for NCTA, where she chairs the small operators’ council. She is past president of WICT and the Oregon Cable Telecommunications Association.

[10] BONNIE HAMMER
PRESIDENT, USA NETWORK & SCI FI CHANNEL
Hammer oversees two of cable’s powerhouse brands in USA (nearly 94 million homes) and Sci Fi (now in more than 93 million homes), which each delight in breaking their own records. Both just had their best October report cards from Nielsen, when USA swept the 25-54 demo. Hammer personally had a great October, renewing Sci Fi’s Stargate Atlantis and ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling franchises.

[11] ANDREA WONG
PRESIDENT & CEO, LIFETIME
Known for bringing Brit hit Dancing With the Stars to ABC, this first-time CEO has been tripping the light fantastic at Lifetime since April. This summer saw the debut of Army Wives, the highest-rated series in Lifetime’s 23-year history, plus original series Side Order of Life and State of Mind. She also expanded Lifetime’s annual commitment to October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month by launching (with Comcast and others) the Breast Cancer Hope VOD channel.

[12] CYMA ZARGHAMI
PRESIDENT, NICKELODEON/MTVN KIDS AND FAMILY GROUP
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade pays tribute to Zarghami’s successes, including SpongeBob and Dora. This 17-year Nick vet oversees all Nick-related TV businesses, including Viacom’s flagship kids’ channel — #1 on basic cable for more than eight consecutive years under her watch — and its digital spin-offs (Noggin, The N, Nicktoons) and all marketing, programming and creative efforts. She also directs the initiatives Let’s Just Play and Kids Pick the President.

[13] CHRISTINA NORMAN
PRESIDENT, MTV
Norman oversees one of the most powerful youth brands on the planet. But she doesn’t just want her MTV — she also has MTV2, mtvU, MTV tr3s, mtv.com and related digital extensions on her docket, including MTV’s burgeoning virtual universe. She makes deals with everyone from executive producers like Mark Burnett, who executive produced this year’s MTV Movie Awards, to cable operators and advertisers. She’s also engaging youths with the MTV/MySpace candidates’ forum.

[14] PATTY McCASKILL
SVP, PROGRAMMING, SUDDENLINK COMMUNICATIONS
Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent considers McCaskill a key strategist for multi-platform content, bandwidth management and advanced services deployment. Looking ahead, Kent says, "with 2008 starting another retransmission consent cycle, her role will be to guide the company through intense and challenging negotiations." She’s also one of the most active execs in cable, serving on the boards of Cable Positive and the NCTC; and involved with CTAM, WICT and organizations in St. Louis.

[15] KATHY PAYNE
VP, PROGRAMMING, COX COMMUNICATIONS
Payne is responsible for programming contract negotiations and compliance for more than 100 cable networks distributed to Cox’s 6 million customers, influencing the viewing experience of Cox’s customers and single-handedly negotiating programming rates on their behalf. She fights retransmission consent and programmer rate increases. A member of NCTA’s music licensing committee since 1997, she is active in the Atlanta chapters of Cable Positive and WICT, which last year named her a Woman to Watch.

[16] ELOISE SCHMITZ
SVP, STRATEGIC PLANNING, CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS
The driving force in restructuring Charter’s debt, Schmitz has managed some of the biggest deals in the company’s history, including leading the successful refinancing in 2005 of approximately $9.5 billion in debt, a record for the largest debt exchange ever conducted. She has also led multiple acquisition and divesture efforts for Charter.

[17] MARY MEDUSKI
EVP AND CFO, SUDDENLINK COMMUNICATIONS
Meduski manages finances (including $1.3 billion in revenue) for the eighth largest MSO. Last summer, she raised about $4 billion in capital. This year, she restructured the company’s debt to cut interest rates before the credit crunch. She is also a member of NCTA’s finance committee and active in the St. Louis chapter of WICT.

[18] PATRICIA GOTTESMAN
EVP, DIGITAL MARKETING & COMMERCE, CABLEVISION
A 2007 NCTA Vanguard Award winner, Gottesman has spent her 28-year career in cable at Cablevision. Now she’s charged with leveraging the company’s advanced platform for interactive ad sales and retail opportunities. This longtime marketer is also a member of the CTAM board of directors and co-chaired the 2006 CTAM Summit.

[19] CAROL HEVEY
EVP, OPERATIONS, TIME WARNER CABLE
Hevey’s many hats at Time Warner Cable include leading corporate diversity efforts. She ran the company’s Maine operations before relocating to Charlotte, NC, and is "the last word on all significant transactions within the Carolina region," says marketing SVP Brian Kelly. She is also active in WICT, NAMIC, CTAM and NCTA.

[20] PAMELA EULER HALLING
SVP, BRAND STRATEGY AND PROGRAMMING, INSIGHT COMMUNICATIONS
Halling has more than 30 years in cable. She joined Insight in 1988 and subsequently worked for the company’s European arm before it was sold to NTL in 1993. She also launched Insight’s cutting-edge interactive television service and VOD platform, and is a member of the CTAM and Cable Positive boards of directors.

[21] MELANI GRIFFITH
VP, PROGRAMMING, INSIGHT COMMUNICATIONS
Griffith joined Insight in Jan. 2005 from working in ad sales at Fox Cable Networks. She quickly learned the ropes from Halling (#20), including cost containment, content strategy, contract negotiations, ongoing evaluation of new and existing programming and expanding the video on demand and subscription VOD platforms.

[22] CATHY FOGLER
VP & GM, VIDEO SERVICES, CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS
Fogler was promoted last December after joining the company only four months earlier. She has expanded her scope from cable video products to all video platforms. Previously at Adelphia Communications and AT&T Broadband, she began her career in sales and advertising. She also serves on the national WICT board.

[23] JANE ROOT
PRESIDENT & GM, DISCOVERY CHANNEL & THE SCIENCE CHANNEL
Since leaving the BBC in 2004 to run Discovery Channel, Root has seen 18 straight months of year-over-year growth in households with hits including Deadliest Catch and Planet Earth. She has also boosted The Science Channel by acquiring and commissioning programming to raise TSC’s brand awareness, while still in search of a breakout hit.

[24] DEBORA WILSON
PRESIDENT, THE WEATHER CHANNEL COMPANIES
Wilson helms one of the last stand-alone independent networks, where she is overseeing its reinvention in HD, one of the biggest investments in parent Landmark Communications’ history. A new media and online pioneer at weather.com, Wilson has been honored by WICT and other organizations. She also serves on the CablePAC board of directors.

[25] MICHELE GANELESS
PRESIDENT, COMEDY CENTRAL
Comedy Central’s first female president (she was promoted in September), Ganeless heads the #1 network among men 18-24 and men 18-34. Under her leadership Comedy Central has been at the forefront of digital media, including cutting a digital development deal with South Park’s creators. She also re-upped Jon Stewart thrugh 2010.

[26] LAUREN ZALAZNICK
PRESIDENT, BRAVO
Zalaznick this year relaunched her brand from Bravo TV to Bravo Media to encompass digital extensions and other businesses (talent management of its on-air stars, product licensing, book publishing). Her claim to fame: having her finger on the proverbial pulse of the zeitgeist. Bravo’s groundbreaking and addictive reality series include Project Runway, Top Chef and now-in-its-last-season Queer Eye.

[27] CHRISTINE DRIESSEN
EVP & CFO, ESPN
Driessen oversees all global financial operations, advising boss George Bodenheimer on strategic planning for domestic and global acquisitions, new business ventures and programming initiatives. She also plays a key role in the company’s broadband Internet strategy and programming rights agreements.

[28] NANCY DUBUC
EVP & GM, THE HISTORY CHANNEL
Named to History’s top spot in January, Dubuc has turned around the channel with its biggest series, Ice Road Truckers, and multiple Emmy-nominated special Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed. This year, with boss and mentor Abbe Raven (#4), she received the 2007 Preserve America Presidential Award for THC’s "Save Our History" initiative.

[29] BRIDGET BAKER
PRESIDENT, TV NETWORKS DISTRIBUTION, NBC UNIVERSAL
Baker replaced former boss David Zaslav when he moved to Discovery in January. She now oversees NBCU’s 14 cable networks (including USA, Sci Fi, Bravo, Telemundo), HD networks including Universal HD, NBCU’s VOD content and the Olympics on cable — all reaching nearly half a billion multi-platform customers.

[30] BROOKE JOHNSON
PRESIDENT, FOOD NETWORK
Johnson oversees one of cable’s highest-rated networks. Adding to its Iron Chef America franchise with The Next Food Network Star, Johnson this year oversaw the channel’s first expansion into branded cookware at Kohl’s department stores. The former Lifetime executive is busy attracting new food pros to spice up its on-air roster.

[31] LOUISE SAMS
EVP & GENERAL COUNSEL, TURNER BROADCASTING SYSTEM; PRES., TBS INT’L
Sams heads Turner’s global business operations and directs almost 100 in-house attorneys supporting the company’s news, entertainment, animation and corporate interests. This year, she led Turner’s $234 million acquisition of seven Claxson TV networks in Latin America. She was also named one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.

[32] CAROLYN STRAUSS
PRESIDENT, HBO ENTERTAINMENT
A 21-year HBO veteran, Strauss survived the ouster of HBO’s former chairman, Chris Albrecht, earlier this year. She also survived another ouster this year: that of Tony Soprano and his associates. Despite the cancellation of The Sopranos’ follow-up freshman series John From Cincinnati, Strauss is developing new series for HBO to premiere next year.

[33] ANGELA SHAPIRO-MATHES
PRESIDENT & GM, TLC
Like fellow ABC alum Andrea Wong (#11), Shapiro-Mathes now runs one of cable’s flagship brands, which she took over in April from her then-position heading Fox Television Studios. She now steers all aspects of TLC, including development, programming, production, new media, marketing, research and communications.

[34] MARJORIE KAPLAN
PRESIDENT & GM, ANIMAL PLANET MEDIA & DISCOVERY KIDS MEDIA
This native New Yorker was given responsibility for Animal Planet by new boss David Zaslav after previous head Maureen Smith left the company. Animal Planet reaches 300 million households in more than 160 countries; Discovery Kids received 17 Daytime Emmy nominations and eight Parents’ Choice Awards this year.

[35] CAROLE TOMKO
PRESIDENT & GM, DISCOVERY HEALTH MEDIA
A 23-year media industry veteran, Tomko is applying her experience running Discovery Studios (where she signed Dr. Jane Goodall to a talent deal). She is on the boards of CTAM and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

[36] EILEEN O’NEILL
PRESIDENT & GM, PLANET GREEN
O’Neill, the former head of Discovery Health, was tapped by Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav to head the company’s $50 million eco-initiative unveiled at its upfront earlier this year. This push includes a 24/7 green lifestyle channel, which is slated to launch in the new year.

[37] JANICE AROUH
SVP, NETWORK DISTRIBUTION,HALLMARK CHANNEL
As an indie network, Hallmark faces tough negotiations with distributors. Arouh’s track record and long experience have forged relationships that have helped lead the network to its current standing in 85 million homes. Arouh and her team successfully renewed several deals in 2007, including those with Mediacom, NCTC and EchoStar.

[38] KIM MARTIN
EVP & GM, WE TV
Expanding on WE’s buzz-making hits including its Bridezilla franchise, Martin this fall moves the network in a more serious direction, with a national grassroots initiative aimed at getting more than 1 million women registered in time to vote in next year’s presidential election. WE Vote ’08 includes extensive local tie-ins for the channel’s affiliate partners.

[39] WONYA LUCAS
EVP AND GM, THE WEATHER CHANNEL
Running the day-to-day operations of The Weather Channel and reporting to Wilson (#24), Lucas is moving the network beyond weather data to connect with viewers on a more emotional (which still practical) level. Besides beefing up original programming, she has overseen the construction of a new HD studio. She co-chaired this year’s CTAM Summit and was named Woman of the Year by WICT’s Atlanta chapter.

[40] SALAAM COLEMAN SMITH
EVP, THE STYLE NETWORK
Smith is one of the youngest women, and one of only a few African-American women, running a cable network. She brought Kimora Lee Simmons to the network for a reality series, Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, that became the highest-rated original series debut in the network’s history. She also led Style’s recent acquisition of The Biggest Loser.

[41] D’ARCY RUDNAY
SVP, CORP. COMMUNICATIONS, COMCAST
One of only six Comcast SVPs, Rudnay is the company’s primary spokesperson. Lately, she has had her work cut out for her extinguishing bloggers’ concerns over Comcast.net’s peer-to-peer bandwidth management policies. She’s active on several nonprofit boards and has received numerous professional awards, including being honored by Profiles in Diversity Journal.

[42] MAE DOUGLAS
SVP, CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER, COX COMMUNICATIONS
Douglas has helped Cox win WICT’s PAR Award for Operators four years in a row and rank twice in DiversityInc’s Top 25. In addition to steering diversity, talent and key recruitment at Cox, where she established and chairs its diversity council, she is a member of the national NAMIC board and an adviser to its Atlanta chapter. Douglas and her team also develop Cox’s training and development programs.

[43] MARLENE DOONER
SVP, INVESTOR RELATIONS, COMCAST
Comcast’s voice on Wall Street, Dooner handles the company’s communications to analysts and the investor community around quarterly and annual earnings, mergers and acquisitions, shareholder and treasury initiatives. Under her watch, Comcast was named one of America’s Most Shareholder-Friendly Companies by Institutional Investor in 2006. She was also named a Woman to Watch by WICT.

[44] SUSAN SWAIN
PRESIDENT, C-SPAN
Swain created and leads the team at C-SPAN that keeps cable’s nonprofit public affairs network front and center in consumers’ minds. She oversees all editorial decision-making, network operations and (somehow) manages to find time to keep her hand in as an on-camera host. Her many platform-spanning (pun intended) initiatives include the Presidential Library original series. A past Vanguard Award winner, she also serves on the board of Cable in the Classroom.

[45] CHARISSE LILLIE
VP, HUMAN RESOURCES, COMCAST CORP., SVP, HUMAN RESOURCES, COMCAST CABLE
Lillie is responsible for the compensation, training and benefits for 90,000 Comcast employees. She also negotiates multimillion-dollar deals with vendors across the U.S., and has been integral in expanding Comcast’s partnerships with black colleges and universities, and women’s colleges that offer engineering programs. She was named a Woman of Distinction from the Community Women’s Education Project this year, one of many honors she has received.

[46] ITALIA COMMISSO WEINAND
SVP, PROGRAMMING & HUMAN RESOURCES, MEDIACOM
Weinand is more than just the sister of Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso. She has worked in the cable industry for almost 30 years and has been with Mediacom since it was founded in 1996. In addition to serving on the management team for what is now the eighth largest MSO in the U.S., she serves on the national WICT board and was named a WICT Wonder Woman, among other accolades.

[47] KATIE LACEY
SVP, MARKETING, ESPN
Since joining ESPN in December 2005, Lacey has led her team with buzz-worthy campaigns, most notably ESPN’s Monday Night Football "Is It Monday Yet?" marketing efforts and its fantasy football hall of fame push. Judging by MNF’s stellar ratings, sports fans wish it was Monday on ESPN every day. Formerly in charge of sports marketing for Pepsi, Lacey also helped craft the "ESPN on ABC" strategy in her role as ESPN’s top marketer.

[48] LINDA McMAHON
CEO, WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT
Considered the "bedrock" of the WWE organization, McMahon executes on the strategy that she and husband Vince, as founder and chairman, and their executive team devise to keep wrestling fans entertained year-round, whether on pay-per-view, USA Network, broadband, at an event or around the world. Now crafting an expansion into China, she’s also the driving force behind WWE’s many pro-social campaigns including Smackdown Your Vote!.

[49] MARVA SMALLS
EVP, PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND CHIEF OF STAFF, NICKELODEON AND MTVN KIDS AND FAMILY GROUP, AND EVP, GLOBAL INCLUSION STRATEGY, MTV
Her surname may be "Smalls," but her title is the longest on this list. That reflects the scope of her role at MTV Networks globally, and the confidence that chairman Judy McGrath places in her ability to unify and motivate the company’s thousands of personnel working around the planet. The initiatives Smalls has led at Viacom include the development of Nickelodeon’s strategies to combat the growing obesity epidemic among children.

[50] CATHY AVGIRIS
SVP & GM, VOICE SERVICES, COMCAST CABLE
Comcast will be the fourth-largest residential phone company by year-end thanks to Avgiris, who added 662,000 Comcast Digital Voice customers in the third quarter, for a total of 3.8 million subscribers in 70 markets. She is also one of the few women in cable to hold a tech-related position like hers, a testament to Brian Roberts and Steve Burke’s faith in her 13-year track record in the communications industry.

Go to CableWorld’s 2007 Most Powerful Women in Cable – The Second 50 

Go to 2007 Top Women in Cable Tech

Go to Abbe Raven: Women in Charge Should Not Be a Novelty


Go to Silver Spring Sisterhood

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