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David Zaslav and the Tinseltown Tycoons That Just Keep Getting Richer

As a money-losing Warner Bros. Discovery continues to slash its workforce and cut employee benefits, President and CEO David Zaslav took home just under $50 million last year, according to a proxy statement the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

Warner Bros. Discovery lost $3.13 billion last year, according to the proxy statement; it lost a whopping $5.36 billion in 2022.

Still, Zaslav’s compensation package, which clocked in at triple the median pay of all S&P 500 CEOs, jumped 26.5 percent from 2022. It included a salary of $3 million; a cash bonus of $22 million; a stock award (tied to free cash flow, which doubled last year to $6.16 billion) of $23,078,769; and $1,623,777 under the heading “all other compensation”, for a total of $49,702,546.

And even though Warner Bros. Discovery’s stock price is now hovering around $8, down from a 52-week high of $14.76 and a price of $24 in the days after the newly merged company began trading in April 2022, the “sizeable grant of premium priced stock options” given Zaslav when he was named CEO in 2021 means that he “is adequately incentivized to take actions that will lead to stock price appreciation,” the proxy statement says.

If Zaslav quits—euphemistically referred to in Friday’s filing as “voluntary termination”—he gets a payout of $22 million. If he gets fired, or, “involuntary termination without cause,” he gets $88.3 million, but if he quits “following a change in control,” he gets more than $182 million.

The eye-popping salaries—despite industry chaos that included an actors’ and writers’ strike over wages and working conditions which shut down development and production for 148 days—are not out of line with what other Tinseltown bigwigs make, though unlike Zaslav—who apparently lost the 2023 compensation wars by just $100,000 to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos—not everyone enjoyed raises this go-round.

Ted Sarandos

Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Ted Sarandos

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos took a slight pay cut in 2023, earning $49.8 million—or, $500,000 less than his 2022 compensation of $50.3 million, according to the company’s proxy statement, which was filed Thursday. Conversely, Sarandos’ co-CEO Greg Peters earned $40.1 million last year, a 43 percent hike over 2022. Other big names received thinner compensation packages that were slightly more reflective of the tumultuous period for the industry. Netflix has also suffered eight-digit losses in streaming, but last year added more subscribers than ever, the company announced on Thursday. It’s stock is hovering in the mid-$500 range, off significantly from a 52-week high of $639 but a healthy distance above a low of $315.

Bob Iger

Bob Iger

Disney CEO Bob Iger, who has slashed more than 8,000 jobs at the company, got paid $31.6 million in 2023—a 31 percent drop from the $46 million he made in 2021 before retiring and then returning as chief executive. He cost Disney $1.2 million in person security charges last year, and about $800,000 in corporate jet usage, according to Disney’s latest proxy statement. Disney has lost more than $10 billion on Disney+ since the streaming service was launched in 2019. Still, Iger has presided over a nice run in Disney’s share price over the past year, hitting a high after the company announced earnings that topped analysts’ estimates.

Robert Bakish

Bob Bakish

Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish made 2.4 percent less this year than he did in 2022, receiving $31.3 million for his services. He earned a $3.1 million salary, according to the company’s proxy statement, which put Bakish’s stock awards at $15.5 million and a $12.4 million cash bonus. His “transportation-related benefits” also ran about $800,000, the proxy statement says. The company has struggled to become profitable in the streaming category as well, with a loss of $490 million in 2023—less than 2022’s $575 million loss. Its stock price has halved in the past year, from $24 to $12, but Paramount Global beat Wall Street estimates on Q4 earnings as advertising losses brought down overall revenues by 6 percent.

Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast—which has not yet filed its 2024 proxy statement—made $32.06 million in 2022, the latest year for which data is available. He earned $34 million in 2021. Jeff Shell, who was fired in April 2023 as NBCUniversal CEO by parent company Comcast, earned $10 million in 2022, but by being terminated for cause over an inappropriate relationship with an employee, forfeited an expected $43.3 windfall. Comcast reported record earnings in January, bringing in more than $1 billion in revenue and losing less on its streaming offerings than expected. Its share price has stayed within the $40-$50 range for the past year.

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