Billionaire club takes beating

Winfrey's jump aside, few moguls fare well on Forbes' annual rich list

With the world having fewer and poorer billionaires this year thanks to the financial crisis and global recession, most of the richest people in the media and entertainment world also have seen their net worth drop.

Oprah Winfrey is a rare gainer in terms of rank and net worth on the 23rd annual Forbes World Billionaires list, unveiled Wednesday in New York. She jumped from No. 462 to No. 234, with her estimated net worth rising from $2.5 billion to $2.7 billion, according to the report.

Steven Spielberg also held up well, keeping his wealth steady at $3 billion and rising from No. 368 to No. 205 on the list to tie George Lucas, who lost $900 million during the past year, Forbes said.

Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dropped off the list — like 354 others — after debuting last year at No. 785 with $1.5 billion, which made the then-26-year-old the youngest self-made billionaire to appear in the rankings.

Forbes calls the year's main trend the "billionaire bust." Other big industry losers also can be found among media and entertainment moguls.

Viacom and CBS Corp. chairman Sumner Redstone, hit by declining stock prices and debt issues, and IAC boss Barry Diller are barely hanging on to their billionaire status, with Forbes estimating their net worth as of the market close Feb. 13 at $1 billion each. That ranks them and others at No. 701 on the list, an improvement for Diller (he ranked No. 897 last year) but a fall for Redstone (he was at No. 137 a year ago).

"Redstone is hanging on to his billionaire status by a thread," Forbes senior editor Matthew Miller said. "If we priced it today, I really doubt that Sumner Redstone would still be a billionaire."

Also, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch dropped 23 spots as his net worth declined by more than half, Forbes said.

Bill Gates reclaimed the top spot overall on the World Billionaires list from Warren Buffett, with Mexican media and telecom giant Carlos Slim falling from the second to third.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley gurus and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are examples of billionaires in the broader media and entertainment field who moved up in the rankings this year (from No. 32 to No. 26) despite seeing their net worth decline from $18.7 billion to $12 billion apiece.

Charter Communications chairman Paul Allen, Italian mogul Silvio Berlusconi, Philip Anschutz, David Geffen, Steve Jobs and Liberty Media founder John Malone also moved up in the rankings.

Overall, this year was the first since 2003 that the number of billionaires on the Forbes list declined — from 1,125 to 793. The list's total worth stands at $2.4 trillion, down from $4.4 trillion in 2008. The average billionaire is worth $3 billion, compared with $3.9 billion last year, making Lucas the prototype of the year-over-year change.

With such recent fast-growing nations as Russia and India losing steam, Americans again dominate the list, claiming 10 of the top 20 spots, compared with four last year.

"New wealth is hit hardest," said Steve Forbes, chairman and CEO of Forbes Inc. and editor in chief of Forbes magazine. He also predicted the eventual economic rebound in the U.S. and worldwide would lead to innovation and wealth creation.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranks No. 17 and is the only top 20 personality who saw his worth rise compared with last year, thanks to buying back a 20% stake in financial news and information powerhouse Bloomberg from Merrill Lynch. The $4.5 billion acquisition boosted his wealth to $16 billion and his rank from last year's No. 65.
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