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The Mavericks: Judy McGrath, MTV

Her promotion from MTV Networks' group president to chairman and CEO caused Fortune to reconsider her rank among America's most powerful women in business. Leapfrogging Anne Moore, Time's CEO, Judy McGrath is now positioned 11th, a significant jump from her 2003 rank of 15th.
November 1, 2004

Her promotion from MTV Networks’ group president to chairman and CEO caused Fortune to reconsider her rank among America’s most powerful women in business. Leapfrogging Anne Moore, Time‘s CEO, Judy McGrath is now positioned 11th, a significant jump from her 2003 rank of 15th.

The promotions are well deserved. McGrath now oversees approximately 95 channels worldwide, including MTV, Spike TV, VH1 and logo, the niche network for gays and lesbians that launches stateside February 17, 2005. Most of the nets are courting the most sought-after demo – those easily distracted 18- to 34-year-olds who grew up with a remote in hand. More importantly, they’re doing it so successfully, parent company Viacom’s cable network unit garners about one quarter of all cable ad revenues.

McGrath was behind VH1′s programming decisions for the past two years, and this summer, the once struggling net averaged 38,000 viewers in the 18- to 49-demo in primetime – up eight percent from the previous summer. She also helped re-brand male net Spike TV and set it on a course towards greater development and more original programming. Keith Brown, Spike’s VP of news and docs, even showed up at the Toronto Doc Forum in May, eager to coproduce.

Having joined MTV in 1981 as a copywriter, McGrath is well schooled in the benefits of courting controversy and being the first to identify a lucrative niche. logo is further proof of that, and will be well served by McGrath’s input. Industry insiders should also watch how she goes after young adults through new technology, such as cell phones and PDAs – the new gen’s distraction of choice. Like the remotes of yore, one is never far from their hands.

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