Forbes in the year of 'billionaire bust'

Media, entertainment moguls slip down the list

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

Oprah Winfrey is a rare gainer in terms of both rank and net worth on the 23rd annual Forbes World Billionaires list, unveiled here Wednesday. She jumped from spot 462 to 234 with her estimated net worth rising from $2.5 billion to $2.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Steven Spielberg also held up well compared to others, keeping his wealth steady at $3 billion, while rising from rank 368 to 205 on the list to tie with George Lucas, who lost $900 million over the past year, according to Forbes.

On the other hand, 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 ever on the list. Forbes calls the year's main trend the "billionaire bust."

Some of the other big industry losers this year can be found among media and entertainment moguls.

Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. chairman Sumner Redstone, hit by declining stock prices and debt issues, and IAC boss Barry Diller are just hanging on to their billionaire status, with Forbes estimating their net worth as of the market close on Feb. 13 at $1 billion each. That ranks them and others in the 701st spot, which for Diller is an improvement from last year's ranking at 897, but for Redstone means a fall from the 137th spot.

"Redstone is hanging on to his billionaire status by a thread," Matthew Miller, senior editor at Forbes, told The Hollywood Reporter. "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 on the list as his net worth declined by more than half, according to Forbes.

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

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley gurus and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are examples for billionaires in the broader media and entertainment field that moved up in the rankings this year (from 32 to 26) despite seeing their net worth decline (from $18.7 billion to $12 billion each).

Charter Communications chairman Paul Allen, Italian mogul Silvio Berlusconi, Phil Anschutz, David Geffen, Steve Jobs and Liberty Media founder John Malone are also among those.

Overall, this year marked the first year 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 now worth $3 billion, compared with $3.9 billion last year, making Lucas the prototype of the year-over-year change.

With fast-growing nations of recent years, such as Russia and India, having lost more steam, Americans once 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 that the eventual economic rebound in the U.S. and around the world would lead to new innovation and wealth creation.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranks 17th and is the only top 20 personality who saw his worth rise over last year, thanks to buying back a 20% stake in financial news and information powerhouse Bloomberg LP from Merrill Lynch. The $4.5 billion acquisition boosted his wealth to $16 billion and his rank from last year's 65th spot.
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