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The value of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s compensation package for 2022, which saw the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger close in April, hit $39.3 million, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing.
In 2021, the then-Discovery CEO had received a pay package worth $246.6 million, an enormous jump compared with $37.7 million in 2020 and $45.8 million in 2019 that was driven by a May 2021 employment agreement that is set to keep Zaslav at the company through the end of 2027. (Stock options that he received related to the extension boosted the calculated value of his 2021 compensation package, even though they didn’t lead to any immediate payouts, with much of the compensation set to vest over the course of his employment contract period.)
Warner Bros. Discovery’s stock fell more than 60 percent in 2022 following the megadeal that created it, while its financials dropped. Annual revenue adjusted for the merger fell 5 percent in 2022 to $43.1 billion, while adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) declined 12 percent to $9.2 billion. Free cash flow, another profitability metric that shows a company’s ability to finance its business without the need for outside funding, jumped 37 percent though to $3.3 billion.
In early March, Warner Bros. Discovery unveiled that it was shifting its focus to generating free cash flow and reducing its debt load, tweaking its executive pay plans to incentivize its top brass by offering bonuses in the form of performance stock units based on their success in reaching these goals.
WBD also said in its proxy filing that it will move to an annual shareholder “say on pay” vote, from the current schedule of every three years. The change will mean shareholders can vote (on a nonbinding basis) on executive compensation packages annually.
Following cost-cutting challenges after the merger and the need to address what management called weaker-than-expected financial momentum at the former WarnerMedia assets acquired from AT&T, Zaslav and his team are this year focusing on upside opportunities of the mega-combination. A growing list of Wall Street analysts have turned bullish on the stock of WBD, including experts at Wells Fargo and Wolfe Research, who have touted limited downside risk.
The filing also disclosed pay for other top WBD execs, who saw their compensation packages rise slightly in 2022 compared to 2021. CFO Gunnar Weidenfels, who has led Zaslav’s cost-cutting efforts, earned $13.5 million (up from $11.3 million), while chief revenue and strategy officer Bruce Campbell earned $13.7 million, and streaming chief JB Perrette made $14.1 million.
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