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Hollywood CEO Pay: Big Checks, Ugly Optics Amid Strike


“Show me the money,” says Cuba Gooding Jr. famously against Tom Cruise Jerry Maguire. Wall Street has been pressuring Hollywood to do the same as investors push for streaming profits amid economic headwinds. Cost savings are key components of the solution for industry players from Disney to Amazon Studios. But while entertainment companies have fired thousands of employees, they’ve also shown their top executives the money – again.

In case of bad timing, the revelations of higher (or lower, but still very healthy) CEO pay in regulatory filings in March and April provided a sharp contrast to layoffs and the start of the writers’ strike. This reporting season for top executives’ pay didn’t repeat last year’s picture of several bosses joining the highly exclusive nine-figure club, with Ari Emanuel ($308.2 million) from Endeavor and David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery ($246.6 million). But several top Hollywood executives saw their payday rise in 2022, many thanks to big stock prices.

And pay in the media industry has long been considered high compared to other industries, meaning CEOs and boards of directors can now be subject to more public scrutiny. “Overall, we see CEO compensation continuing its post-COVID surge,” said Amit Batish, senior director of content at data company Equilar, of the broader business trend in the United States.

However, compensation packages for a majority of media and entertainment executives were analyzed by The Hollywood Reporter surpassed the median salary of $22.3 million in 2022, an increase of 7.7 percent from 2021, among companies tracked by the Equilar 100, which compiles compensation disclosures made as of March 31 by the largest players in Corporate America by revenue across industries.

“Equity awards make up the majority of reward packages, and these awards are usually given at the beginning of the year – there was a lot less economic uncertainty to kick off 2022,” says Batish. “Therefore, the negative economic impacts, such as cost cuts and employee layoffs, are not necessarily reflected in the value of those equity awards.”

Netflix’s Reed Hastings, who left his co-CEO role in January to focus on his title of executive chairman, led the Hollywood pack with a 2022 compensation package worth $51.1 million, up 25 percent. Meanwhile, the biggest pay gainer has run out THRThe list below is Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount Global, with a 60 percent increase. Comcast’s Michael Cavanagh, who was elevated from CFO to the added role of president in October and recently assumed oversight of entertainment arm NBCUniversal when its CEO, Jeff Shell, was fired for an “improper relationship,” saw a 48 percent pay rise .

But critics were unhappy that Shell and Bob Chapek, the former Disney executive who was replaced by Bob Iger at the end of the company’s previous fiscal year, earned less in 2022 than they did in 2021. Nearly $800 million, but pay for TV writers has dropped 23 percent in the past 10 years,” Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote in a May 2 tweet.

The pre-strike revelations are causing PR headaches. “The prospects of mass layoffs are not good if the CEO and other top executives get higher compensation,” says Wall Street veteran Hal Vogel. Meanwhile, he sees “no surprise” in cases where corporate bosses have had to take “pay cuts” as “much of CEO compensation is tied to stock price performance.”

Many media stocks ended 2022 strong, often underperforming the fall in the S&P 500 stock index, which itself recorded its worst year since 2008. “I expect top pay to be cut again in the coming year. The boards should not be afraid to do this,” says Vogel.

With equity awards typically awarded at the beginning of the year, Batish says pay could drop in 2023 “as many media companies took a hit to close out 2022 as (streaming) subscriber growth cooled and the ad market weakened.”

In an interesting starlet, the highest paid executive in the broader entertainment industry was not a CEO but a creative officer. Charlie Collier, who left Fox last year to join Roku as head of media at the end of October, started with a 2022 salary package worth a whopping $53.3 million. Time will tell if that bet pays off.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images, Taylor Hill/WireImage, Courtesy of Comcast, Santiago Felipe/Getty Images, Rodin Eckenroth/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images, Michael Tullberg/Getty Images, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix, Laurent Viteur/ Getty Images, Amy Sussman/Getty Images, Taylor Hill/Getty Images, Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images, Steve Granitz/FilmMagic.

A version of this story appears in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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