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Hollywood’s Highest Paid Executives: Who Made Bank, Who Sank in 2017 (Updating)

TheWrap’s annual executive compensation survey finds that Les Moonves is living (much) larger than his high-profile frienemies

Last Updated: April 30, 2018 @ 2:16 PM

There’s no business like show business, and few bank on that fact quite like Hollywood’s top executives.

Based on what has been reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission thus far this year, the industry’s top earner is CBS chief Leslie Moonves — and it’s not even close.

Earning a cool $69.3 million in 2017, Moonves’ take is a whopping $20 million higher than the next-richest guy of the last 12 months, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes. Hell, Les made damn near twice what Disney’s top executive Bob Iger did in 2017.

No one tell Dish Network head honcho Charlie Ergen what Moonves made.

Below is TheWrap‘s list of executive compensation details from 2017 corporate SEC filings. To compare it to past years, click through our previous annual reports:

2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

We will be updating this story as more major media companies report the take-home pay of their top executives.

Les Moonves’ pay may have declined last year, but hold off on that GoFundMe drive — he still pulled in a nice chunk of change.

The CBS head honcho still managed to pull in $69.3 million in 2017, a slight drop from the $69.6 million he made in 2016. While Moonves’ salary remained steady at $3.5 million annually, his bonus was cut from $32 million in 2016 to $20 million in 2017. Don’t feel too bad for him though, he still received $43.7 million in stock awards.

CBS routinely wins the war for total viewers, though NBC rules the key 18-49 demographic these days. But we’d imagine Moonves is more concerned with that potential merger with Viacom right now.

Charlie Ergen saw a nice uptick in his final year as CEO. Now Dish Network chairman, Ergen earned $2.4 million in 2017, a nice 48 percent uptick from 2016.

The satellite-TV company exec’s base salary was flat at $1 million — the difference this time around was $654,000 in option awards. Ergen also saw his catch-all category “All Other Compensation” rise about $130,000 versus 2016.

Ergen made more money than Dish’s other top executives, including president & CEO W. Erik Carlson. Ergen shed the CEO title in December. In February, Dish Network said its Sling TV service counts more than 2.2 million users.

The head of the richest company in the world bounced back in 2017, after taking a pay cut for missing performance marks the year prior. 

Apple unveiled several new products last year, including iPhone X, the button-less 10th-anniversary edition of its flagship product. But even with the X coming up short on sales figures out of the gate, Apple still had a dominant 2017, closing the year with its biggest quarter ever — raking in a cool $88.3 billion in revenue. 

Cook received a “modest” salary of $3.06 million, along with $9.33 in bonuses, for his efforts. The exec pulled in $89.2 million in stock compensation last year. 

You’ll probably never see dueling Hollywood biopics made in Cook’s honor, but he’s still helping Apple do what it does best: shovel in the cash.

Bob Bakish had a lot to do in 2017. The Viacom veteran took over for the ousted Philippe Dauman in October 2016 after a messy and public tug-of-war for control between Dauman and Viacom’s vice-chairwoman Shari Redstone.

Bakish came out on top, which meant instituting a turnaround plan for the struggling company’s film studio and TV brands. But it also meant taking home $20.3 million. The haul was more than $70 million less than predecessor Dauman made in 2016, but the main reason for that was Dauman’s golden parachute.

Bakish pulled in a nice $2.77 million salary, a $7 million bonus, and $10.5 million in stock awards and options. Now, though, with Viacom on the verge of merging with CBS, Bakish and Redstone are fighting to keep the executive in a significant position of power with the combined company.

At this point, it’s beginning to feel like the Mouse House’s chief executive might never leave the castle. After delaying his retirement plans following the Disney board’s failure to find a suitable successor, Bob Iger’s plan to step down in 2019 were dashed last December when the company announced its plan to buy some of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.

Iger’s compensation has slipped in the last few years, falling more than 17 percent last year. But he did still bring in $36.3 million, which could help if those presidential ambitions ever amount to a run.

Iger’s salary stayed flat in 2017 at $2.5 million, while his stock awards ticked slightly up to a rounded $9 million and options dipped a bit to about $8.3 million. The key changes were in his Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation, which dropped to $15.2 million from $20 million, and the change in Pension Value categories, which flatlined from about $2.9 million.

Much has been made of the subscriber losses at Disney’s struggling ESPN network, but Iger and co. think they have the solution with a direct-to-consumer streaming service. The company is also moving into the streaming space with a Disney-branded service next year, as it looks to complete a $52.4 billion Fox acquisition of assets that would cement Disney’s film studio as the most valuable in Hollywood.

What’s better than making $37 million per year? Making $42 million — that’s the pay raise Discovery boss David Zaslav saw for 2017.

Zaslav’s options awards are what pushed him over the top, rising from $11.1 million to $15.6 million. The company’s top executive’s salary remained flat at $3 million.

The only other material change to Zaslav’s compensation was in his non-equity incentive plan category, where the head honcho took home about $600,000 more than he did in 2016.

If you think Zalav’s all-in pay represents a massive dollar amount, well, you’re right — but consider that he acquired Scripps for like $15 billion in 2017. This $42 million is chump change.

Sarandos has spearheaded Netflix’s transition from a company mailing DVDs to an original content powerhouse, and that change ushered in a big 2017 for the streaming giant. 

Netflix Originals dabbled in everything, from new series like “Ozark,” to a slew of standup comedy specials, to big-budget action pictures like the Will Smith-led “Bright.” The Los Gatos, California-based company also debuted “Icarus,” it’s Oscar-winning documentary on doping in the world of competitive cycling. 

Viewers rewarded the company for its experimentation, with Netflix adding 20 million subscribers — and pushing past the 115 million customer threshold — in 2017.  

The Netflix co-founder and chief exec became a billionaire for the first time in 2017, thanks in large part to the company’s soaring stock price. Netflix shares jumped from about $120 to $185 in 2017, with Wall Street loving the company’s ability to rope in new viewers. 

For Sarandos, the key to the company’s success has been in being “aggressive,” as he put it, with its content. Netflix spent $6.3 billion on programming in 2017, putting the company just a hair below industry stalwarts like Time Warner and Disney when it comes to non-sports content. 

The steady flow of new shows — along with staples like “Stranger Things” and “Orange is the New Black” — keeps giving viewers a reason to cough up $10.99 a month. With more than 50 million subscribers in North America, Netflix now has its sights set on international expansion. While his compensation only jumped 5 percent in 2017, Hastings will gladly keep taking the little bumps up if it means his shares are swelling 50 percent each year. 

AMC Networks President and CEO Josh Sapan’s $29.6 million take in 2017 was about $900,000 — or 3 percent — less than 2016, when his all-in haul was $30.5 million.

Sapan’s 2017 salary stayed consistent with the prior years at $2 million. His stock award of $14.3 million was up from 2016, though a sizable decline in the “non-equity incentive plan compensation” category more than offset the growth.

We suppose it’s still good to have “The Walking Dead” — even a version that is nowhere near as highly rated as it used to be. (A suite of other channels and an international presence doesn’t hurt either.)

Jeff Bewkes

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes saw his pay spike in 2017, thanks to stock windfall from his company’s planned acquisition by AT&T. Bewkes brought in nearly $49 million in compensation, the company’s — a huge jump from the $32.6 million he pulled in for 2016.

In fact, the $32 million in stock awards was almost the entirety of his pay in 2016, and a massive jump from the $7.7 million he received in stock awards the prior year. That $32 million covers two years, both 2017 and 2018, as an incentive to stay if the merger with AT&T goes through. Bewkes’ base salary stayed the same at $2 million, with an additional $14.7 million in bonuses.

The company is currently entrenched in legal battle with the Department of Justice, which brought an antitrust lawsuit over its proposed merger with AT&T. The government’s main argument is that a combined company would be so powerful that it could gouge both customers and the companies it negotiates with over carriage fees.

Steve Burke
NBCUniversal CEO

NBCUniversal’s CEO Steve Burke saw his pay jump in 2017 to $46.5 million in 2017, up from the $46.07 million he made in 2016.

His base salary was essentially the same in 2017 at $2.88 million (up from $2.80 million in 2016), and he received $15.35 million in options awards and another $5.34 million in stock awards. His pension value and non-qualified deferred compensation earnings rose from $8.56 million to $10.16 million. The catch-all “other compensation” rose from $4.12 million to $4.37 million. Burke’s non-equity incentive plan compensation was $8.47 million, down slightly from 2016 ($9.9 million).

NBCUniversal’s parent company Comcast had a strong earnings beat for the first quarter of 2018 thanks in large part to the performance of the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl on NBC’s cable and broadcast channels.

Brian Roberts
Chairman and CEO, Comcast

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts, meanwhile, saw his pay decline in 2017 from $32.96 million to $32.52 million.

Though his base salary increased slightly from $3.01 million to $3.10 million, his non-equity incentive plan compensation dipped from $10.67 million to $9.12 million.

Comcast’s earnings were also boosted by its Comcast’s cable communications arm, which grew 3.6 percent. Comcast also announced its $31 billion offer to acquire Sky.