Executive Pay: How Hollywood Measures Up
Discovery's Zaslav tops the moguls as media CEOs reap rich rewards.
To paraphrase Mel Brooks: It's still good to be the king. Despite the post-recession economic malaise, top entertainment executives continue to be handsomely rewarded. Media moguls might not rule the roost as they did in 2010 -- when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman's $84.5 million in cash and stock made him the highest-paid CEO in America -- but The Hollywood Reporter's examination of public filings reveals that showbiz titans can compare wallets with the CEOs of almost any industry.
The big winner for 2011 appears to be Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, who took home $52.4 million in overall pay, up 23 percent from the previous year, making him tops in Hollywood (though the latest numbers for CBS Corp.'s Leslie Moonves and NBCUniversal's Steve Burke haven't been disclosed yet). Zaslav, 52, benefited from the value of stock option awards, which jumped from $15.4 million in 2010 to $23.9 million in 2011. Despite the troubles at OWN, Discovery's partnership with Oprah Winfrey that at least one analyst says will lose $143 million this year, the company's 12 percent revenue gain to $4.24 billion and 32 percent operating profit gain to $1.8 billion justify his swelling compensation.
Says Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce, "2011 was good for Discovery because of strong content, ratings and ad growth in the U.S. and internationally."
In addition to the powerhouse Discovery Network, Investigation Discovery is the fastest-growing cable network, and TLC boasts 28 series averaging 1 million viewers apiece. In 2011, Fortune celebrated Discovery as the seventh-fastest-growing company in America, and its revenue more than doubled over the past three years. Discovery's stock price has more than tripled since it went public in 2008.
Over at Disney, CEO Robert Iger, 61, was the beneficiary of a $31.4 million pay package for the company's fiscal year that ended Oct. 1, up 12 percent from 2010 and up 45 percent from what he earned in 2009. But unlike Zaslav, Iger's pay didn't correlate to Disney's stock price, which fell 9 percent in fiscal-year 2011. Iger took home $15.5 million in performance-based bonuses, despite objections from some Disney shareholders.
"We were paying close attention to the [advisory] vote at Disney" on executive compensation, says Eleanor Bloxman at the Value Alliance, which advises boards of directors on corporate governance and valuation issues. "The vote was going to be controversial, and indeed it was much closer than in previous years."
Overall, Hollywood compares favorably with Corporate America, where executive pay was up 2 percent in 2011, according to a preliminary study by USA Today. An analysis of the 100 highest-paid CEOs for The New York Times pegged the median take-home pay at $14.4 million.
Media executives have "pretty high compensation," says analyst Carol Bowie at RiskMetrics. "Because a lot of media companies are [founder- or family-] controlled companies, dissatisfaction from shareholders is not quite as influential."
Rupert Murdoch, CEO of family-controlled News Corp., won't disclose his latest compensation until the fall. But Murdoch, 81, made $33.3 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011, up 46 percent from the year before. The company's stock has risen despite the phone-hacking scandal.
Overall, stock prices for the media sector were down 3 percent in 2011, according to management consulting firm Oliver Wyman. That was worse than the overall S&P index, which remained about flat last year. But most entertainment conglomerates outperformed the broader stock market index.
But not all top media executives are experiencing good times. Cablevision CEO James Dolan, 56, suffered a 15 percent decline in his compensation package. Investors punished the company after it spun off AMC Networks and its cable service faced a tough marketplace. "Cablevision had strong Verizon competition," notes Joyce. Overall, Cablevision's share price was down around 40 percent. But don't feel too badly for Dolan. He got an $11.4 million reward in 2011.
If there's one CEO to envy, it's Apple's Tim Cook, who leapt ahead of Hollywood and all other CEOs with 2011 pay of nearly $378 million, including a salary of $900,000, plus a massive (but restricted) stock grant. Cook, 51, is now the highest-paid chief executive among public companies. Former CEO Steve Jobs, who died in October, traditionally got paid an annual salary of just $1.