Move Over Les Moonves: Which Media Mogul Got the Biggest Pay Raise Last Year – And Who Slipped

CBS’ Les Moonves, Viacom’s Philippe Dauman and Disney’s Bob Iger all made big bucks — but nowhere near what one guy got

Last Updated: April 17, 2017 @ 1:14 PM

If Sundar Pichai offers to buy you lunch, don’t fight him for the check: the new Google CEO was the highest-paid media executive of 2015, raking in a whopping $100.5 million, according to a study of executive compensation by TheWrap.

It’s a big payday for Pichai, who wasn’t even included in our roundup last year, when he was still the company’s chief product officer. Among others scoring huge increases were DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose compensation jumped 111 percent from 2014 to $13.5 million. (Katzenberg’s 2015 won’t have anything on his 2016: He stands to make more than $400 million when Comcast’s NBCUniversal completes its acquisition of DreamWorks Animation.)

It wasn’t as good a year for Sumner Redstone, but don’t shed many tears — the 92-year-old is still worth billions, and he didn’t have to do much work for his salary.

Below is TheWrap’s list of executive compensation details from 2015 corporate SEC filings. To compare 2015 to past years, click through our previous annual reports:

2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008

Some performance or stock-price based compensations are related to fiscal 2015 performance, while others are a barometer of a company’s showing in 2014 or even earlier. We’ve ordered the executives from highest to lowest 2015 compensation:

Sundar Pichai

Pichai’s total compensation bested every other executive on our list. But we don’t know how that compares to what he made before he became Google’s CEO.

Last year, Pichai was elevated to the helm of search giant Google and the company’s other main businesses, like YouTube and its Android products. It was part of a restructuring that created a new umbrella company called Alphabet.

The changes meant that Pichai’s compensation was broken out publicly for the first time. Pichai’s stock award was actually granted in conjunction with his promotion to Google’s product chief in 2014, before he was named CEO last year. Pichai is in line for some rich rewards in the years to come. He’s set to get $209 million in stock, granted every other year.

Les Moonves

It’s always good to be Les Moonves. The man who recently took Sumner Redstone’s “chairman” title at CBS Corporation has cleared more than $180 million over the past three years.

So what’s he doing right? Well, CBS has been the most-watched network for 13 of the last 14 years, and eight straight. And this year, thanks largely to having the rights to Super Bowl 50, Moonves’ broadcast network is primed to break NBC’s win streak atop the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic for the traditional September-May TV season.

Moonves also helped draw Stephen Colbert over to “The Late Show,” which CBS now owns. The network’s leader also launched a new star a little earlier in the year in the form of James Corden.

CBS closed 2015 with a record-breaking fourth-quarter. At the time, Moonves was pleased to see growth at his core businesses, but also opportunities in the international market, and the maturation of his three new streaming services — CBS All Access, CBSN and Showtime over-the-top.


Bob Iger

Disney may be the biggest entertainment company in the world, but its chief didn’t see much of a big difference in pay last year.

The many ways Disney pays Bob Iger all held basically steady, including salary, stock, options and other incentive pay. His relatively paltry pension — worth $1.4 million dollars out of his $44.9 million total take — was the only kind of comp that really changed much. It dropped from $2.7 million the year before.

Marissa Mayer

What’s a 15 percent drop in pay when you have a $55 million golden parachute strapped to your back?

Marissa Mayer’s pay slipped last year to about $36 million, as she and all other named Yahoo executives missed a cash bonus and reaped fewer option awards. Those dropped at $20 million last year versus $28.2 million a year earlier.

But if Mayer loses her job because Yahoo is sold — and it’s in the process of auctioning off its core business right now — she is set to make about $54.9 million in cash severance and other benefits.

David Zaslav

That dramatic 79 percent drop is a bit misleading on its face. Zaslav backed up his own personal Brink’s fleet in 2014 because of fruitful contract negotiations. At the time, Zaslav received more than $94 million in new stock and options to re-up for five more years, dramatically increasing his compensation. In 2015, it came back down to earth.

Zaslav’s pay being so closely tied to the finances of the company was all part of Discovery’s long-term plan for stability and success. In 2015, executive salaries dropped across the board at the media company, and generally, pay followed suit: CFO Andrew Warren — who is on his way out — earned $4.4 million, down from just under $7 million in 2014. Jean-Briac Perrette, president of Discovery Networks International, went from $7.4 million in 2014 to $4.9 million in 2015.

While not of huge overall impact to the Discovery Communications big picture, one interesting 2015 write-down occurred when Zaslav and Co. had to cancel TLC’s biggest series, “19 Kids and Counting.” Axing the series following a Josh Duggar molestation scandal cost Discovery 19 million bucks — or a million per kid.

At the close of 2015, rough international revenues and unfavorable exchange rates hung like a gray cloud over Zaslav’s head. We’ll see what his next contract looks like.

Jeff Bewkes

Jeff Bewkes’ pay held pretty steady in 2015, with his salary saying at the same $2 million it has in the last three years. His stock awards went up a little, and his option awards ticked down a hair. His overall pay slipped just 4 percent.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit from Bewkes’ compensation disclosures: His jet-setting lifestyle really adds up. The value of Bewkes personal use of company aircraft was worth $207,556 last year, double the $103,610 worth of flying he enjoyed the year before on the company dime.

Reed Hastings

Stock was the name of the game for Netflix’ top exec’s 2015 pay. And with stock like Netflix’s, which was the single best performer in the S&P 500 last year, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Thanks to stock, Reed Hastings’ total compensation jumped 50 percent, even though his salary got a haircut. Instead of the $3 million in salary that he made the year before, the payout dropped to $1.1 million last year. So his bump is mostly thanks to $15.5 million in option awards, nearly double his 2014 grant.

Ted Sarandos

Netflix’s content guru’s pay climbed more than that of even his boss, percentage-wise. Ted Sarandos’ total comp saw a 59 percent boost last year, and like Hastings, he mostly has stock to thank for it.

Hastings and Sarandos actually earned the same $1.1 million salary in 2015, but the content head’s options leapt to $10.9 million this year from $6 million the year before, lifting his total take to about $14 million.

But Sarandos does helm a $5 billion programming budget this year, blowing away the spending at traditional programmers. Maybe that will help his own bottom line this year.

Jeffrey Katzenberg

For the reasons explained above, Katzenberg will be the executive to beat in 2016 when it comes to compensation.

Tim Cook

Apple had a great 2015. It closed out its fiscal year with its best financial performance ever, thanks to the iPhone. But Cook’s jump in pay was modest, in millionaire terms: His 2015 compensation rose about $1 million to top $10 million.

His deputies all made more: Senior vice presidents at the company like financial chief Luca Maestri, retail leader Angela Ahrendts, head of software and services Eddy Cue and top lawyer Bruce Sewell all made more than $25 million.

Apple execs are looking ahead to a grim year, though. The gadget giant last month reported its first drop in quarterly revenue in 13 years, and the current period is going to tighten too. The problem: People can’t afford to buy new $600 phones every single year, especially now that mobile carriers are no longer cloaking the actual costs of the devices as much as they used to.

Peter Liguori

Don’t feel too sad for Liguori — his 2015 is only low compared to the unusually whopping one he received in 2014, which is why his percentage change is so high. The Tribune Media head honcho made $8.8 million in 2013, which is roughly in line with what he made in 2015. And Liguori just signed a two-year contract extension.

Unfortunately, Tribune Media started 2016 off in a bit of a tough spot. In February, Liguori and the gang stated they were exploring the sale of businesses and assets. Even crown jewel WGN America could go, the chief executive officer said at the time. This declaration came despite Tribune topping Wall Street forecasts for the final quarter of 2015.

Since then, new series “Underground” has raised the profile — and TV Ratings — of the small network, likely raising the price tag in turn. Election-year advertising revenues should also help in the near-term.

Finally, Tribune still owns pretty big assets. The company has been attempting to offload Chicago’s Tribune Tower and at least part of the Los Angeles Times’ physical location.

Sumner Redstone CBS Emeritus

Sumner Redstone Viacom

The 92-year-old Redstone has been too ill lately to do much work, but he still has titles, so he still makes money.

Redstone made about 84 percent less year over year from the two main media companies that he has controlling interest of through National Amusements. Throughout calendar 2015, Redstone remained executive chairman at CBS and Viacom in title. Since then, he’s taken on the new title “Chairman Emeritus,” reflecting his hands-off role with both companies.

Redstone (but mostly his lawyers) spent much of 2015 fighting in court over his family trust and succession plan. Also last year, his former companion, Manuela Herzer, sued to be reinstated as the steward of his care. She contends he is like a “living ghost,” unable to follow conversations and sign his own name. Redstone’s lawyers rejected the claims as an attempt to re-infiltrate his estate after she was removed in October.

Chris Albrecht

Don’t feel bad for the relatively low-paid Albrecht — he made his money in 2013, when the Starz chief executive scored a sum of $30.5 million. The vast majority of that — $27.9 million — came from option awards.

Starz is off to a rough-yet-eventful start in fiscal 2016, as the company just missed Wall Street’s Q1 marks at both the top and bottom lines. In March, the Albrecht-led company rebranded a bit, bringing Encore under the Starz umbrella.

Lionsgate has been considering buying Starz for a while now, and major media investor Dr. John Malone — chairman of the board at Liberty Media — recently brought the two companies the closest they’ve been to-date. We’ll keep an eye on this one.