Here are the 11 most consequential media and technology figures of 2023 — and the six losers

Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, at the Hope Global Forums annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. The meeting includes over 5,200 delegates representing 40 countries aiming to reimagine the global economy so the benefits and opportunities of free enterprise are extended to everyone. Photographer: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, at the Hope Global Forums annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023.Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.New YorkCNN — 

2023 was a year of titanic change in the industry.

The media and technology sectors were upended by disruptive forces, testing the leadership of some of the world’s most powerful executives. At the same time, that disruption also produced some new leaders who were catapulted into positions of immense influence and authority.

We surveyed the media and technology landscapes to identify 11 consequential figures that stood out for their far-reaching decisions in 2023. Below, you will find our non-exhaustive list of the leaders who shaped the space in which the world turns for communication, information, and entertainment.

  • Sam AltmanMost of the world had no idea who Altman was at the end of last year. But in just one journey around the sun, the OpenAI founder has become one of the most watched executives in the world. The technology powering his firm’s ChatGPT tool has enthralled the public, thrilling Wall Street, upending Silicon Valley, gridlocking Hollywood, and sending some very frightening jitters down the spines of observers across the seven continents. That is why the recent boardroom drama at OpenAI prompted a cascade of headlines. And it’s why world leaders have held urgent meetings about the rapidly advancing technology enabling artificial intelligence. It is not an understatement to say that the decisions Altman makes as OpenAI boss might very well limit or accelerate an existential threat to the human race.
  • Taylor Swift: The generational talent is in a league of her own. Swift commanded the world’s attention throughout the year, dropping music that immediately became the soundtracks to our lives, crisscrossing the country on her acclaimed “Eras Tour,” releasing a smash hit concert film for those who couldn’t attend in person (or wanted to re-live the magic of her enchanting performances), juicing the NFL’s ratings and so much more. She was such a force that the Federal Reserve actually credited her for boosting the economy. In TIME’s piece crowning her as the 2023 person of the year, Sam Lansky said it best, declaring that Swift “became the main character of the world” in 2023. It’s hard to disagree with that.
  • Elon Musk: The world’s richest man certainly tried his best to be the main character of the world, but instead of going about it by creating alluring art and uplifting others, Musk chose to do so by self-immolating before the public. Musk was the focus of an immeasurable number of headlines for his embrace of deranged — and at times hateful — conspiracy theories, ugly attacks on the Anti-Defamation League and figures like George Soros, repeated smearing of the press, and the elevating of dangerous extremist figures on his social media platform, X. The appalling behavior led to a crippling advertiser exodus from X, one that threatens to put the company out of business, according to Musk himself. Regardless of whether that happens, Musk successfully killed the site once known as Twitter, taking from the world what was once an important communications platform.
  • David Zaslav: He might be a newcomer to Hollywood, but Zaslav has not been shy about shaking things up. The Warner Bros. Discovery boss continued to buck establishment thinking in 2023 and led the way on several fronts as the media landscape shifted beneath everyone’s feet. Zaslav launched the Max streaming service, uniting all of WBD’s storied brands and content under a single roof, offering consumers a streaming option that resembled the traditional bundle. And Zaslav has thought creatively to generate revenue, including licensing HBO content to Netflix, a once inconceivable move. Zaslav’s bold thinking has been mimicked by some of his peers, with Bob Iger notably moving to combine the Hulu and Disney+ libraries, as well as license select Disney content to Netflix. That said, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine for Zaslav. He’s received hefty criticism for his high compensation, ruffled the feathers of the Hollywood elite after tinkering at TCM, alienated old friends amid CNN drama and had to contend with an endless list of industry challenges in 2023, including the historic writers’ and actors’ strikes. But through the thick and thin, Zaslav has been at the center of it all, playing an instrumental role in shaping the media landscape for the future.
  • Bob IgerThe king of the Magic Kingdom has never ruled in a more consequential moment. Iger retook the throne last year and has worked through 2023 to position Disney as a media company of the future. What that ultimately looks like remains to be seen. But Iger’s vision is slowly coming into focus, with the Disney boss moving to acquire Comcast’s remaining stake in Hulu and making moves to set ESPN up for a direct-to-consumer future, which will include sports betting. As with Zaslav, the year has been grueling for Iger, as he’s been saddled with a mountain of challenges that are besetting Disney and the industry at large. In the wake of an eyebrow raising CNBC interview over the summer, Iger frustrated his own army of staffers and became public enemy No. 1 in Hollywood among picketers. But with the strikes now resolved, he’s moved to calm his own troops by signaling that he may not offload linear television assets such as ABC, despite having suggested so earlier in the year. Iger’s decisions have not only impacted the House of Mouse but sent ripples through the media ocean.
  • Steve Bannon: The “War Room” host currently wears the crown as king of the MAGA Media. In 2023, the center of gravity in far-right media moved into Bannon’s corner, particularly after Fox News fired Tucker Carlson. The extremist rhetoric championed by Bannon often sets the agenda in the dishonest media space in which he holds court. Bannon might not have the loudest microphone, but he certainly plays a crucial role shaping the narratives that are often adopted by Donald Trump and his allies. His “War Room” show is to 2024 what Breitbart was in 2016.
  • Greta Gerwig: With her smash hit “Barbie,” Gerwig established herself as an entertainment force. Yes, her previous projects “Little Women” and “Lady Bird” were acclaimed by critics and nominated each for several Academy Awards (the former took one home). But Gerwig surfaced to the front of the public’s consciousness in a major way over the summer, breaking records at the box office, with “Barbie” generating more than $1.4 billion in global ticket sales. Accompanied by Swift and Beyoncé, Gerwig played a leading role in the summer of women.
  • Adam MosseriWhen people talk about Meta, founder Mark Zuckerberg often comes to mind. And while Zuck certainly holds the ultimate power within the empire he has built, Mosseri stood out in 2023. The Instagram boss expanded his portfolio, overseeing Meta’s X competitor, Threads. And as a result, he expanded his visibility, becoming a far more prominent figure in the public square. As Threads boss, Mosseri has played an important role in shaping the platform (which has become the de facto home for X refugees) and critical policy decisions. Mosseri also found himself the subject of some unflattering news coverage. Outlets like The Wall Street Journal continued to aggressively report on disturbing traits of Instagram’s powerful algorithm — a not so great reminder of the power Mosseri wields as the executive calling the shots at the Meta properties.
  • Kara Swisher: If there is one journalist that every executive in the media and tech sectors knows, fears and respects, it’s Swisher. The reporter-podcaster-commentator is a force of nature, prolifically updating her millions of followers with important insights into the biggest stories of the day, while also not being afraid to call anyone out on the carpet. And despite her no-holds-barred style and unique ability to get under the skin of some of the world’s most powerful people, Swisher still manages to secure top-notch interviews, both at in-person events and on her many podcasts. It’s a nod to how widely respected she is.
  • Janice Min and Jon Kelly: Those In The Know in The Biz have likely noticed their media diets change in the last two years. While Hollywood denizens still obsessively scan the major Hollywood trades, Min and Kelly have assigned them some mandatory reading material as well. Both The Ankler and Puck have emerged on the scene as big players in Hollywood media, delivering essential reporting on the industry about — and to — the top figures in the entertainment business.
DANA POINT, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Linda Yaccarino, CEO, X/Twitter speaks onstage during Vox Media's 2023 Code Conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel on September 27, 2023 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media)

Linda Yaccarino, CEO, X/Twitter speaks onstage during Vox Media’s 2023 Code Conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel on September 27, 2023 in Dana Point, California.Jerod Harris/Getty Images

The Losers: It wasn’t the best year for some of the industry’s leading figures. Some were fired. Others saw their reputations destroyed. And others were dealt historic setbacks that threaten the dominance of the companies they lead. Here are six figures who had a particularly rough year.

  • Linda Yaccarino: Has any executive so destroyed their reputation as quickly and publicly as Yaccarino? The once-respected NBCUniversal advertising chief moved over to X where she set ablaze the sterling reputation she had acquired over decades of hard work. Yaccarino, who holds the title of X chief executive, has actually served as Elon Musk’s pain sponge, becoming the public face for the disastrous decisions and often gross behavior executed each day by the billionaire as he embraces conspiracy theories. Yaccarino’s friends in the advertising business implored her to leave after Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory, but Yaccarino chose to stay, driving a nail into the coffin on what was left of her public standing.
  • Rupert Murdoch: There are 787 million reasons that Murdoch had a less-than-ideal year. The Fox boss was forced to pay the historic fortune to settle a damning lawsuit brought against his right-wing cable network by Dominion Voting Systems. The lawsuit brought even more shame to Murdoch and his stable of hosts and executives, who were revealed to have known that Donald Trump’s election lies were bogus, despite broadcasting them to millions of their loyal viewers. And it revealed, to some extent, that Murdoch had lost control of the right-wing media universe he once ruled, with emails showing the Fox News owner was fearful of Trump’s army of supporters. Elsewhere in his media empire, Murdoch had to scrap plans to reunite News Corporation with Fox Corporation. It was an all-around terrible year for the media mogul — one capped by Murdoch even seeming to acknowledge that his powers are fading, handing the keys to his empire to his son Lachlan as he retired — at least on paper — and transitioned to chairman emeritus of his companies.
  • Tucker Carlson: The one-time king of Fox News thought he was untouchable. And to be frank, it certainly seemed that way to most of the public. But Murdoch turned that notion on its head when he fired Carlson in April. Murdoch gave no reason for the firing of the right-wing extremist who had repeatedly abused the primetime perch entrusted to him. Regardless, it was a brutal blow to Carlson, whose influenced had unquestionably diminished without the prominent platform Murdoch had provided him. In the wake of his firing, Carlson turned to vlogging on X. More recently, he claimed to launch a “streaming network,” which is really a collection of his videos being sold at an outrageous price to his fans.
  • Chris LichtWhen Licht took over as CNN boss, he had tremendous goodwill. Suffice to say, he had squandered every ounce of it by the end of his short-lived tenure, which ended over the summer after a very public firing by his boss, David Zaslav. Licht’s brief one-year tenure was stained by a series of severe missteps. It was marked by layoffs, shrinking profits, historically low ratings, the firing of two anchors, and rock-bottom employee morale. The final death knell was a devastating — and highly embarrassing — 15,000-word profile in The Atlantic. The blistering piece, in which author Tim Alberta spoke to more than 100 CNN employees, called into serious question Licht’s ability to lead the organization into the future. Zaslav ultimately agreed, exiling his one-time friend from the WBD kingdom.
  • Kevin FeigeOnce upon a time, Marvel Studios reliably churned out billion-dollar hits acclaimed by critics and fans alike. 2023 shattered that notion, leaving a mess for Marvel boss Feige to marvel at. The studio’s $200 million-plus “The Marvels” bombed at the box office and was panned by critics and fans. And, earlier in the year, “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” was savaged by the critics. To make matters worse, Marvel had to drop Jonathan Majors — who was positioned to play the chief villain in the new phase of the MCU — after the actor was convicted of harassment and assault. Taken together, it’s a dire state of affairs for the Feige-led Marvel, which has long been one of Hollywood’s most lucrative studios.
  • Sundar Pichai: For years and years, Google has operated without facing any serious threats to its business. That changed in 2023, with the abrupt ascension of OpenAI, which has left the tech titan doing everything in its power to play catch-up. Pichai, facing what could be an existential threat to Google’s dominant search product, announced Gemini late in the year, but the product hasn’t quite lived up to the promised hype. On the antitrust front, Google is also in unprecedented territory, having lost a major trial to Epic Games as it simultaneously battles the Department of Justice in a separate consequential lawsuit. At the very least, the lawsuits have exposed how the sausage is made at Google — and it hasn’t been the best sight to behold.

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