Why Starz CEO Chris Albrecht Makes More Money Than Rupert Murdoch

Chris Albrecht Rupert Murdoch - H 2014
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Chris Albrecht Rupert Murdoch - H 2014

The executive — whose $31 million salary nearly matches that of Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger — is among the highest-paid media CEOs in 2013 despite a company valued at a small fraction of his peers' domains.

This story first appeared in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Quiz: Which media CEO made more in 2013: Chris Albrecht at Starz, which has a market capitalization of $3.3 billion, or Rupert Murdoch at 21st Century Fox, which boasts a market cap of $77.7 billion? Answer: Albrecht, 61, who earned $30.5 million, enough to put him among the highest-paid media CEOs despite a company valued at a fraction of his peers' domains.

Now that all of the major companies have filed annual reports, Albrecht's number is a standout. He earned not only more than Murdoch ($28.9 million) but also nearly as much as Robert Iger ($34.3 million), even though the Walt Disney CEO runs Wall Street's most valuable media conglomerate with a market cap of $142.2 billion, about 43 times larger than that of Starz.

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What's going on? It's all about the stock price, say experts, and as long as shares of Starz keep rising faster than those of bigger companies, investors aren't likely to gripe about Albrecht's compensation, which rose 136 percent year-over-year while the stock advanced 120 percent in 2013 -- more than any of the major conglomerates and far outpacing the 30 percent gain by the S&P 500.

Albrecht also has Wall Street credibility equal to that of CEOs of the major congloms, born of spending years as a top executive at HBO overseeing The Sopranos and Sex and the City. (He resigned in 2007 after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a girlfriend in a Las Vegas parking lot.) And while such original series as Black Sails and Da Vinci's Demons aren't on par with HBO's biggest shows, Starz produces them on a relative shoestring, helping generate $1.78 billion in 2013 revenue, up from $1.6 billion in 2012. "The stock price is a testament that Albrecht is doing something right," says Sterne Agee analyst Vasily Karasyov.

The executive's base salary in 2013 was $1.25 million, but his stock options surged from $11 million in 2012 to $27.9 million. For that windfall, Albrecht can thank Liberty Media chairman John Malone and CEO Gregory Maffei, who spun Starz off as a publicly traded company in 2013, paving the way for a four-year contract extension and possible hefty stock-based compensation.