After an unprecedented 2020, the television industry has much to do, and Broadcasting+Cable has put together this Watch List of the people leading the efforts to redefine television. The list focuses not so much on the corner-office denizens who have long called the shots, but more on the next generation of trendsetters and game-changers.
As the pandemic took hold, stay-at-home orders ramped up the shift to streaming and set off a scramble to be more efficient, with many businesses shut down, conferences canceled and executives working from home conducting meetings over Zoom.
Giant companies reorganized, small businesses adjusted and startups formed to take advantage of new opportunities. In some cases, that means developing programming for multiple platforms; in others, it means chasing consumers as they form new viewing habits. In some cases, new technology is causing disruption. In other, technology is the solution. Sometimes it’s both.
Within each organization CEOs tasked people with finding better ways to get things done and to make that happen — or else. These key individuals and their teams will be doing the work and how successful they are will tell the story of 2021. And that’s why we’ll be watching.
11. Jennifer Salke
Head of Amazon Studios
Salke oversees all television and film development as well as production for Amazon’s global entertainment division. Hits at Amazon under her aegis include the TV series The Boys and the movie Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. She joined in 2018, after a sexual harassment scandal forced out Roy Price, and is credited in leading Amazon to become a “storytelling powerhouse,” as Elle magazine put it. At NBC and at 20th Century Fox Television, she was a major force behind some of television’s most successful comedy and drama series, including This Is Us and The Blacklist.
12. Scott N. Brown
General Manager, Audience Measurement, Nielsen
Brown is responsible for innovating Nielsen’s measurement products and driving the unification of its linear TV, advanced TV and digital solutions. Nielsen said it would be adding data from 55 million set-top boxes and smart TVs to its national TV currency, allowing it to measure addressable advertising. Under Brown’s leadership, Nielsen is overhauling its digital measurement methodology enabling the company to create an independent platform that can adapt to privacy and policy changes.
13. Lisa Knutson
Executive VP and Chief Financial Officer, The E.W. Scripps Co.
When Scripps completes its acquisition of Ion Media in 2021, Knutson will lead the company’s new national television networks business, overseeing operations of the combined businesses of Ion Media, the five Katz networks and Newsy. As CFO, she has led the company’s financial operations, corporate development and strategic planning and manages functions including IT and risk management. She played a key role in the merger-and-spinoff deal between Scripps and Journal Communications in 2015.
14. Wade C. Davis
Incoming CEO, Univision Communications Inc.
In February 2020, Davis’s investment firm, ForgeLight, and partners agreed to acquire a majority stake in Spanish-language media giant Univision. Davis will be CEO when the deal closes. He has talked up Univision’s potential with the Spanish-language U.S. population. Before founding ForgeLight, Davis was EVP and CFO of Viacom, helping to drive a turnaround of the business and pave the way for the $50 billion merger of Viacom and CBS.
15. Susan Zirinsky
President and Senior Executive Producer, CBS News
Zirinsky was named to oversee CBS News in March 2019 and, within her first nine months, overhauled the news division, including launching the “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell.” She also named new leadership and new executive producers of several flagship programs including “CBS This Morning” and “60 Minutes.” She began her career in the CBS News Washington bureau two weeks after the Watergate break-in.
16. Marianne Gambelli
President of Advertising Sales, Fox
Gambelli, a leading figure on Madison Ave., oversees all linear and nonlinear sales across Fox’s portfolio of brands, including Fox Broadcasting, Fox Sports, FS1, FS2, Fox Deportes, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and the latest acquisition, ad-supported streaming service Tubi. Earlier, Fox News experienced record years in ad sales when Gambelli was advertising sales president for Fox News and Fox Business Network. Before Fox, she was at Horizon Media and spent 22 years at NBC.
17. Robin Roberts
Co-Anchor, Good Morning America, ABC
With big interviews like the first sit-down with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris after they announced their historic ticket this summer, Roberts helped keep GMA the number one morning show for the ninth consecutive year. In October, she sat down for an exclusive interview with Judge Esther Salas, whose 20-year-old son was killed and her husband wounded in a racially motivated assault. Her production company, Rock’n Robin Productions, creates original programming for ABC and other networks.
18. David Sambur
Co-Lead Partner, Private Equity, Apollo Global Management
Sambur set his sights on the TV business in 2019 acquiring Cox Media Group and Northwest Broadcasting. With Apollo’s resources and the benefits of scale in broadcasting, that’s seen as a good start. COVID-19 slowed dealmaking in 2020, but Apollo will have its checkbook open in 2021. It likes the growing revenue from retransmission and sees political advertising as a business it can cultivate, in addition to stations. Apollo is reportedly talking to AT&T about DirecTV. We’ll be watching.
19. Ann Sarnoff
Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Network Group
Sarnoff was named to her position in August and brings 30 years of industry experience to bear in overseeing all of WarnerMedia’s content-focused teams, uniting the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, HBO and HBO Max, the Warner Bros. Television Group, DC, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang, TCM, Cartoon Network Studios, WB Animation, TBS, TNT, truTV, Wizarding World, consumer products and gaming. She was chair and CEO of Warner Bros., the industry’s first female studio head.
20. Miguel Penella
President of SVOD, AMC Networks
Penella’s record of building successful subscription video-on-demand products and brands for AMC Networks was rewarded in September with an expanded role. He added the AMC Plus premium service to his purview, which included Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC. Shudder has passed the 1-million-subscriber mark, as Acorn TV had a year earlier. AMC acquired Acorn TV and UMC in 2018 as part of RLJ Entertainment, where he was CEO.
21. Michael Barrett
President and Chief Executive Officer, Magnite Inc.
Riding a wave of consolidation, Magnite was created in 2020 as Rubicon Project bought Telaria, combining ad-selling platforms in hopes of grabbing more of the connected TV ad market. President and CEO Barrett had held that position at Rubicon Project. Prior to that, he was president and CEO at Millennial Media. A former Google and Yahoo executive, Barrett also was president and founder of Ichabod Farm Ventures LLC.
22. Jordan Peele
Founder and CEO, Monkey Paw Productions
Peele gained big screen accolades from his 2017 Academy Award-winning directorial debut “Get Out,” followed by the 2019 box office hit “Us.” On the small screen Peele — through his production company Monkeypaw Productions — put his stamp on Netflix’s 2019 reboot of The Twilight Zone, as both executive producer and narrator. In 2020 he collaborated on Amazon Prime Video’s Nazi-targeting vigilante drama series “Hunters” before drawing raves for his company’s HBO series Lovecraft Country.
23. Beau Ferrari
Chairman, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises
Chairman Ferrari succeeded Cesar Conde in the job in May. He oversees the company’s multiplatform portfolio, including the Telemundo broadcast network, which is now the No. 1 Spanish-language network. Reporting directly to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, Ferrari had been EVP of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises since 2017. He joined NBCU from Univision Communications.
24. Kenya Barris
Barris is an award-winning writer, producer and director known for his Peabody Award-winning sitcom, Black-ish, at ABC. With a focus on socially conscious storytelling that reflects our culture and tackles contemporary issues, his work has earned him praise for telling stories that make audiences more aware of the world around them while making them laugh. Current projects include Black-ish and spinoffs, Grown-ish and Mixed-ish, with a third spinoff, Old-ish, in the works.
25. John Landgraf
Chairman, FX, Disney General Entertainment Content
Along with Landgraf’s official title, he’s unofficially known by critics as the mayor of television for his astute observations on the industry. He positioned FX for the future when FX on Hulu was launched earlier this year. FX’s streaming hub offers its own originals, including Mrs. America and A Teacher. FX shows have long played like indie films, despite the basic cable limitations. In the streaming world, those strictures don’t exist.
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