WICT Announces Honorees for 2017 “Woman of the Year” and “Woman to Watch”

Woman of the Year – Programmer, Sarah Barnett, 
President & General Manager, BBC America 

Woman of the Year – Operator, D’Arcy Rudnay, 
EVP & Chief Communications Officer, Comcast 

Woman to Watch – Technology, Samira Panah Bakhtiar, 
Director, Media Operations, Cisco Systems

Woman to Watch – Operator, Charlene Keys, 
AVP, Field Operations – Western North Carolina, Charter Communications

Woman to Watch – Programmer, Tina Thornton, 
SVP, Production & Multimedia Sponsorship Integration and Management Operations, ESPN

Washington, DC – Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) announces the 2017 Woman of the Year – Programmer, Sarah Barnett, President & General Manager, BBC America and Woman of the Year – Operator, D’Arcy Rudnay, EVP & Chief Communications Officer, Comcast. Woman of the Year is WICT’s highest individual accolade bestowed on individuals who embody WICT’s mission to develop women leaders who transform the industry. Honorees have achieved top industry status and show great resolve to help others along their path.

WICT also announces the esteemed 2017 Woman to Watch honorees from a technology company, operator and programmer, respectively: Samira Panah Bakhtiar, Director, Media Operations, Cisco Systems, the first award recipient of the newly established Technology category; Charlene Keys, AVP, Field Operations – Western North Carolina, Charter Communications; and Tina Thornton, SVP, Production & Multimedia Sponsorship Integration and Management Operations, ESPN. The Woman to Watch distinction recognizes leaders who show tremendous growth and progression through their professional accomplishments with a strong commitment to their companies and the industry at large. 

Honorees will receive their awards during the WICT Touchstones Luncheon on Monday, September 25 at the New York Marriott Marquis, in conjunction with the annual WICT Leadership Conference, as part of Cable’s Diversity Week. AMC Networks returns as the exclusive Premier Sponsor of the Touchstones Luncheon.


"WICT is honored to applaud and celebrate the achievements of these extraordinary individuals," said Maria E. Brennan, CAE, President & CEO, WICT. "Each honoree embodies the WICT Touchstones of Leadership and serves as a shining example for others in the industry to emulate. We look forward to showcasing their accomplishments during this year’s Touchstones Luncheon as part of Diversity Week 2017, and we thank AMC Networks for their continued support of this important event."

About Sarah Barnett 
As president and general manager, Sarah Barnett is responsible for the day-to-day operations of BBC AMERICA, including the creative and brand strategy, production and development, digital strategy, audience innovation and marketing. She was appointed to this post in November 2014.

With Barnett at the helm of BBC AMERICA, the network has seen unprecedented growth and exceptional recognition within the industry, including a 2016 Emmy® Award for Tatiana Maslany in the best actress category for critical hit Orphan Black. Under her leadership, BBC AMERICA has further established itself as a hub for fresh, culturally contagious programming that includes science-fiction cult favorite Doctor Who, the wildly bizarre Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency starring Elijah Wood, worldwide phenomenon and critical darling Planet Earth II, and the groundbreaking unscripted series Top Gear. BBC AMERICA is a top 10 social network in America, innovation and fandom is at the heart of Barnett’s mission. Soon to join the networks’ impressive slate are Killing Eve from Phoebe Waller-Bridge and starring Sandra Oh, Blue Planet II and Top Gear America.

Named head of SundanceTV in 2009, Barnett redefined the channel, a turnaround described by TV critics as "remarkable." Barnett launched the network’s buzzy scripted strategy with the Golden Globe-winning Carlos, and then oversaw a slate of top quality, auteur-driven series that captured the highest critical acclaim and industry awards, including Rectify, Top of the Lake, The Returned and The Honorable Woman, among others. She also launched socially relevant unscripted shows like Jamie Oliver’s Dream School, Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and the award winning Push Girls, along with a number of shows about culture and storytelling such as The Writers’ Room, The Approval Matrix, Close Up, With The Hollywood Reporter and Behind the Story with the Paley Center.

Barnett joined SundanceTV from a previous stint at BBC AMERICA where she served as head of on-air and creative marketing.  She also executive produced several original shows for BBC AMERICA. Before BBC AMERICA, Barnett spent 12 years with the BBC in London, where she produced and directed, working first for BBC radio and then BBC television.

Barnett was featured in The New York Times "Corner Office" column and has been profiled in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Adweek, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and Indiewire, among many others. She has been included in Variety’s Gotham Power List, Variety’s Women’s Impact Report as well as The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power 100 List. Barnett was also inducted into the Multichannel News’ Wonder Women 2014 class and has been named to the CableFAX Top 100 and Most Powerful Women lists.

Barnett earned her BA in history of art from the University of Warwick in the U.K.

About D’Arcy Rudnay 

D’Arcy F. Rudnay serves as Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for Comcast Corporation. In this role, she serves as the communications counsel to the Chairman and CEO and other members of the executive team and leads the management of the company’s brand, reputation and strategic communications activities across Comcast Corporation. Rudnay has decades of experience in M&A communications, and led the strategic communications activities around Comcast’s $30 billion NBCUniversal transaction in 2011 and the $3.8 billion DreamWorks Animation acquisition in 2016, among many others.

Rudnay has over 35 years of experience in strategic communications for public corporations, national family owned businesses and large public relations agencies in a broad array of industries. At Comcast, Rudnay oversees all communications for the Company’s financial reporting, crisis management, federal and regulatory activities, product launches, employee relations, diversity, and social media. In 2012, she led the rebranding of Comcast Corporation following the NBCUniversal acquisition with a particular emphasis on repositioning the company in the media and technology industries.

Since her arrival at Comcast in 2003 as Vice President of Corporate Communications, Rudnay has led all strategic corporate branding and communications for the company. During her tenure, she has led the repositioning of Comcast following its acquisitions of AT&T Broadband (2003) and Adelphia (2005) and was subsequently promoted to Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications in 2007, Chief Communications Officer in 2012 and to Executive Vice President in 2015.

Prior to joining Comcast, Rudnay spent nearly ten years in the financial services industry. At Lincoln Financial Group, Rudnay served as Vice President of Corporate Communications and Media Relations and Vice President of the Lincoln Financial Group Foundation. At Advanta Corporation, she served as Vice President of Communications and Corporate Identity. Prior to Advanta Corporation, she worked in communications for The Pew Charitable Trusts and for strategic communications firms in Washington, D.C.

Rudnay has won numerous industry honors for her leadership. Most recently, she was named to the Holmes Report’s annual Influence 100, which recognizes the most influential CCO/CMOs around the world. She was also named one of the nation’s top 10 most powerful people in PR on the 2016 PR Week Power List and annually on their list since 2011. In 2015, Rudnay received the Vanguard Award for Government and Community Relations from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). In 2014, Rudnay was inducted into the PR Week PR Hall of Fame, and in 2010 she was inducted into the PR News PR Hall of Fame as one of the Nation’s top 25 communications executives. In addition, Rudnay has been named among the "Most Powerful Women in Cable" annually since 2010.

In addition, Rudnay serves or has served on the Board of Directors and special committees for a number of non-profit organizations, including the Steppingstone Foundation, Corporate Board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, Lincoln Financial Group Foundation, Advanta Foundation and the Delaware Valley Grantmakers. Rudnay earned a BA degree from Trinity Washington University and an MS degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She resides in Radnor, Pennsylvania, with her husband.

About Samira Panah Bakhtiar 
Samira Panah Bakhtiar is attuned to the powerful relationship that can be forged between digital media and technology. As Director, Media Operations at Cisco Systems, Bakhtiar leads a team of highly passionate engineers and sales team members who evangelize this every day. Over the course of the last decade, her work at Cisco has led to strategic alignment and business transformation, with some of the world’s largest media conglomerates–focusing on introducing innovation and enhancing operational efficiency in the areas of production, contribution, post production, and primary & secondary distribution.

Bakhtiar’s humanitarian work focuses on the abolishment of human trafficking and she has worked as an advocate with the Half the Sky Movement, the New Somaly Fund, and Global Poverty Project. Her philanthropic work has always been a strong personal driver, and as a result, Bakhtiar launched Bridge2Act in 2015, a venture which is focused on transforming the giving landscape through the use of technology.

Bakhtiar graduated Summa Cum Laude in Finance from the University of Arizona with her B.S., and Magna Cum Laude with her MBA from Fordham University. In her spare time she loves traveling, practicing Muay Thai Kick Boxing, Hot Yoga, and hitting up the culinary scene with her husband, Koorosh, in Manhattan. 

About Charlene Keys
Charlene Keys is Area Vice President for Charter Communication’s Western North Carolina Area.

Prior to joining Time Warner Cable, now Charter Communications, Keys served as corporate Vice President of Interconnection Services for KMC Telecom; Director, Carrier Management and Interconnection Services for the Eastern United States at MCI WorldCom Inc.; General Manager, Network Operations, Ameritech, Inc.; and Sr. Manager, Network Operations and Engineering, Sprint Corporation.  During her tenure in Chicago was Ameritech Corporation’s Exchange Executive with Deutsche Telekom in Bonn and Berlin, Germany; responsible for developing service delivery strategies for integrated digital services. 

A strong advocate for giving back through community service, Keys currently serves as a Trustee of Benedict College, Treasurer of the Central Carolina Community Foundation, is immediate past Chair of the Columbia Urban League Board of Directors, and is Past President, and current Chapter Advisor to WICT Carolinas Chapter.

Keys has been recognized with numerous business and industry honors including: CableFAX’s Most Powerful Women in Cable, CableFAX’s Most Influential Minorities in Cable, WICT National’s Women on the Move, South Carolina-Midlands Most Influential Business Woman Award for 2014, the Columbia Urban League’s Lincoln C. Jenkins Leadership Award, and WICT Carolinas’ Carol A. Hevey Leadership.

Keys holds an MBA from Mercer University (2004) and a BS in Business from the University of the State of New York (1985). She is a graduate of the Women in Cable Telecommunication’s Distinguished Betsy Magness Leadership Program, and a graduate of Cable Executive Management at Harvard Business School. 

About Tina Thornton
Tina Thornton – who joined ESPN directly out of college in 1993 — was named senior vice president, production & multimedia sponsorship integration and management operations in May 2015.

In her role, Thornton oversees ESPN’s Multimedia Sponsorship Integration (MSI) unit. Her team works with ESPN sales to maximize multimedia revenue by integrating sponsorships across shows, products and projects. The team collaborates across the company on sales implementation, issue resolution and innovative executions.

She also leads the Management Operations team, including production management, production scheduling and business/personnel operations – a unit that impacts more than 100 client groups and almost 5,000 employees in ESPN’s workforce. This team partners with production leaders in the strategic and efficient management of ESPN’s production business efforts driving partner content, workflow and cost savings.

From 2001 to 2014, Thornton led the production of ESPN’s NCAA Championships coverage, overseeing 24 events including wrestling, lacrosse and the Women’s College World Series. From 2001 to 2016, Thornton led ESPN’s women’s basketball coverage, including the NCAA Women’s Tournament and Final Four.

Thornton joined ESPN as a production assistant in 1993. From 1994-1998, she worked as an associate producer on a variety of events, including ESPN’s Sunday Night Football, Big Ten college football, college basketball, the NFL Draft and several X Games and Winter X Games. Thornton served as coordinating producer from 1998-2006 for a variety of ESPN Outdoors programming, including the Bassmaster Tour, the Bassmaster Classic and the ESPN Great Outdoor Games.

In 2012, Thornton and ESPN’s Rosalyn Durant were selected as mentors in the first year of the Global Sports Mentoring Program initiative run by espnW and the U.S. Department of State. The program is now entering its sixth year.

A Cincinnati native, Thornton graduated from Wake Forest University with a bachelor of arts degree in communications in 1993. In 1999, she completed the Simmons College Program for Developing Managers. From 2002-05, Thornton served a three-year term on the Wake Forest Alumni Council, representing nearly 40,000 alumni worldwide.

In June 1998, Thornton was named one of "20 Under 30," a list of successful, young women, by Working Woman Magazine. She also participated in the Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) Betsy Magness Leadership Institute from 2005-06 (Class XII). A participant in ESPN’s formal mentoring program for nearly 15 years, Thornton was also a member of the 2007 Mentoring Advisory Team. She is currently a volunteer youth lacrosse coach in her hometown.

About WICT (Women in Cable Telecommunications)
WICT’s mission is to create women leaders who transform our industry. We do this by providing unparalleled professional development programs, commissioning original gender research, and supporting a B2B network that helps advance women. For nearly 40 years, WICT has partnered with cable and technology companies to help build a more robust pipeline of women leaders. Founded in 1979, and now over 10,000 members strong, WICT is the largest and oldest professional association serving women in cable media. Comcast NBCUniversal, Charter Communications, and Turner are WICT’s Strategic Touchstone Partners. Please visit www.wict.org or follow @WICT on Twitter for more information. 

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