Hollywood and Tech World’s Highest Paid Executives: Who Made Bank, Who Sank in 2019

TheWrap’s annual executive compensation round up finds that Apple CEO Tim Cook led the pack

Hollywood, and the media industry had an enthralling 2019: Viacom and CBS re-merged, Disney bought a chunk of Fox, everyone and their second cousin’s favorite uncle launched, or solidified plans for, a streaming service, and the executives at the top of the heap made millions pulling the strings.

Despite being the richest man on our list — well, the richest in the world — with a net worth of roughly $140 billion, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos doesn’t top the media and entertainment CEOs pulling in the most in compensation. That honor goes to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who took home $125.4 million in salary and stock options.

For some of the CEOs and executives on this list, 2020 pay stubs are going to feel a lot lighter. Because of adverse financial impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a lot of companies’ stocks have taken a hit in 2020. Then there are the pledges to fork over salaries to benefit the health of their companies: Disney’s newly minted Executive Chairman Bob Iger will forgo his entire 2020 salary, and Fox heads Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch will forfeit their salaries through September.

Below is TheWrap‘s list of executive compensation details from 2019 corporate SEC filings. To compare it to past years, click through our previous annual reports:

2018 | 2017 |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.

Amazon co-founder and CEO Jeff Bezos keeps it consistent: He earned a salary of $81,840 last year — just as he did in 2017 and 2018. His overall compensation package was unchanged from 2018, too, with Bezos bringing home most of his $1.7 million in pay to use toward security expenses. The world’s richest man — with a net worth of more than $140 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires List — ended up paying his ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, about $36 billion in their high-profile divorce settlement last year, but he’s already made back more than half of that in 2020 as Amazon’s share price has rocketed higher.

The e-commerce giant has seen its stock price surge more than 30% in mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. That jump has pushed Amazon back above the $1 trillion valuation mark, as it trails only Microsoft and Apple for bragging rights as the world’s most valuable company.

Comcast boss Brian Roberts scored another nice payday in 2019, which was before all this pandemic troubles hit. His 4% raise came amid continued cord-cutting at his company’s cable communications arm, which is its largest unit.

Still, Comcast stock had a nice 2019, growing about $10 per share.

As per usual, Roberts, who runs the company that owns NBCUniversal, made less money than the guy who runs the (sizable) subsidiary. That would be…

Steve Burke hates to leave NBCUniversal, but he loves to walk away. In his final full year atop the Comcast-owned entertainment company, Burke hauled in $42.6 million dollars. A fond farewell — yes, despite Universal Studios’ year-end box office bomb “Cats.”

Jeff Shell, who will replace Burke as CEO of NBCU this August, previously oversaw the company’s film and network television businesses, including NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group (UFEG), Telemundo and NBCUniversal International.

On April 1, the company’s remaining top executives — Roberts, Mike Cavanagh, Dave Watson, Jeff Shell and Jeremy Darroch — said that for the duration of the pandemic crisis, they will donate their full salaries to charities that support COVID-19 relief efforts. Comcast also committed $500 million to support its employees through continued pay and benefits where operations have been paused or impacted.

Fox unloaded the bulk of its film and TV entertainment assets in a $71.3 billion sale to Disney, and with it, Lachlan Murdoch saw his 2019 compensation drop 17% to $42.1 million from $50.7 million the previous year.

Murdoch did receive a nice $2 billion payout following the closing of the Disney deal, which he used to launch Lupa Systems, an investment vehicle to build a portfolio of media companies.

The Murdoch patriarch, who now serves as the chairman of New Fox, ceded control of some of his most valuable assets in 2019.

He saw his 2019 compensation drop more than 14% to $42.2 million, down from the $49.2 million he brought in in 2018.

Netflix’s Ted Sarandos had a full plate in 2019. Beyond stewarding Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and its (unsuccessful) push toward Oscar glory, Sarandos was also tasked with keeping the hits coming for the world’s biggest streaming company. Netflix added nearly 28 million new subscribers last year; those gains pushed Netflix past 100 million international subscribers and left the Los Gatos, California-based company at 167 million paying viewers by the end of the year.

That performance helped Sarandos earn a 17.2% compensation boost, which largely stemmed from his salary increasing from $12 million to $18 million. Like other entertainment juggernauts, Netflix faces production setbacks due to the coronavirus outbreak but the streamer seems to be weathering the storm so far. Netflix recently reported it added a record 15.8 million new subscribers during Q1 (with special thanks to “Tiger King” and the return of “Ozark”).

For the second straight year, Netflix chief Reed Hastings’ salary was a relatively modest $700,000. Hastings more than made up for that with more than $37 million in stock options received last year. Another $465,637 in compensation was added on for his “personal use of company aircraft,” as Netflix detailed in a recent SEC filing.

As 2020 rolls on, Hastings is not only focused on pulling in more international subscribers — and pushing toward 200 million customers overall — but finding a way to keep Netflix firmly at the top of the streaming food chain as competitors like Disney+, HBO Max and NBCU’s Peacock roll out.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson enjoyed a pay increase in the first full year of AT&T’s ownership of WarnerMedia, going from $29.1 million made in 2018 to $32 million last year. Following months of speculation about his future, Stephenson finally announced in April he will retire after 38 years, with his top lieutenant John Stankey (more on him below) to succeed him this summer.

Stephenson will serve as executive chairman of the board until January 2021.

John Stankey had a turbulent year in his first year as a media executive, but received a hefty pay increase for his troubles. As WarnerMedia CEO, he reshuffled the company formerly known as Time Warner almost completely, losing longtime HBO chief Richard Plepler and Turner President David Levy within the span of a week, and bringing aboard former Hulu chief Jason Kilar to lead WarnerMedia’s entertainment division. Under Stankey, WarnerMedia unveiled its long-awaited streaming play in HBO Max, which finally launches this month.

Stankey got more than a pay increase for his work in 2019. After adding the title of president and COO for WarnerMedia’s parent company AT&T, he will take over as CEO in July, with Kilar set to succeed him atop WarnerMedia.

Joe Ianniello had a strange year. His pay shot up dramatically, and he will be one of the most handsomely paid executives from 2019… for not getting the top job leading ViacomCBS. After months of holding the fort as acting president and CEO after Leslie Moonves was ousted in late 2018 amid accusations of sexual misconduct, Ianniello had to lead CBS through its merger with Viacom. The end result: He got the interim tag removed from his title, but it was under Bob Bakish’s leadership under the newly combined company.

He stepped down as CEO of CBS shortly after the merger, with former NBCUniversal executive George Cheeks replacing him. Ianniello had an earlier clause in his contract with CBS that entitled him to a hefty amount if he wasn’t named the permanent CEO. That led him to take home a whopping $84.7 million in severance.

Bob Bakish had about 31.5 million reasons to celebrate the long-awaited merger of Viacom and CBS. That’s how many dollars the CEO made in 2019 sitting at the helm of the recently combined ViacomCBS. Bakish’s pay represents a roughly 55% jump from his 2018 pay.

Bakish’s pay breaks down as follows: Base salary of $3.1 million, with annual grants of equity compensation with an aggregate target value of $16 million, and an annual cash bonus under the ViacomCBS’ senior executive short-term incentive plan worth $12.4 million.

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s compensation package dropped 8.3% last year, but he’s still doing just fine. Even with the salary decrease, Cook earned $125.4 million in 2019. Most of that came from $113.5 million in stock options vesting, which was added to his $3 million salary. Cook’s bonus decreased from $12 million in 2018 to $7.67 million in 2019, though, as Apple’s annual revenue dropped 2% year-over-year — despite the tech giant bringing in $260 billion in revenue last year. You know it’s a stressful gig when your company makes a quarter of a trillion and it’s considered a down year.

By the end of 2020, Cook will have earned more than $1 billion since taking over for Steve Jobs as chief executive in 2011.

The thing Hollywood was beginning to think would never happen finally came to pass: In February, Bob Iger stepped down as CEO of The Walt Disney Co. Before passing the reins over to parks boss Bob Chapek, in his last full year as CEO, Iger saw his 2019 annual pay drop 28%, or more than $18 million, from the previous year.

The reason for the difference can be attributed to a massive 2018 bump he received in stock awards. Iger still made out all right, pulling in $47.5 million. His base salary actually rose slightly to $3 million as Disney’s movie studio had a record year in 2019, becoming the first studio ever to gross $10 billion at the global box office in a single year.

Charlie Ergen saw his compensation decline 24% last year to $2.36 million. His all-in pay was down from the $3.11 million he took home in 2018 and was more in line with his 2017 compensation of $2.45 million.

He received a significantly higher portion of option awards in 2018, with his base salary remaining $1 million through all three years. In fiscal 2018, Ergen’s option awards reached $1.37 million. Nothing was recognized under that heading in 2019.

We’ve got good news and bad news for David Zaslav. OK, you already figured both of those out from the graphic. Zaslav made $48.5 million in 2019, which keeps him among the highest paid executives in the media industry. That was less than half of his massive take in 2018, however.

Zaslav’s 2018 pay was inflated by a massive option grant of more than $102 million (compared to his option awards of just under $7 million last year). That was tied to his new contract to stay on as CEO through 2023.

What does Zaslav do to earn the big bucks? Well, not only is the Discovery portfolio of networks strong around the globe, he’s the guy bringing home-improvement stars Chip and Joanna Gaines back to TV — and in a big way with their own channel. Pay the man.

Plus, Discovery’s stock rose more than any of their direct peers last year — including Disney — and the company reported more than $3.1 billion in free cash flow.

Josh Sapan’s trend of pay cuts mostly hit the brakes in 2019. With a total take just $400,000 lower than the previous year, Sapan was pleased to avoid the 31% year-to-year loss he faced last time.

The much larger hit Sapan took in his compensation change from 2017 to 2018 was the result of the company moving away from processes that caused a “bunching” effect in executive pay, as was explained in AMC’s year-ago filing, which reported exec pay for 2018:

In 2016, the company changed its long-term incentive compensation from a long term cash performance award (‘CPA’), which the company awarded prior to 2016, to a long-term equity-based award in the form of [Performance Stock Units]. SEC reporting rules require that the company report CPAs when paid at the end of their three-year performance cycle. At the same time, SEC rules require that PSU awards, which also vest after a three-year performance cycle, be reported in the year granted. This results in a ‘bunching’ effect for the calendar years ended December 31, 2016 and December 31, 2017 because 2016 includes both the value of the CPAs that were granted in 2014 and the value of the PSUs granted in 2016, and 2017 includes both the value of the CPAs that were granted in 2015 and the value of the PSUs granted in 2017.

Because no CPAs were outstanding after December 31, 2017, there is no ‘bunching’ effect for the NEOs’ 2018 compensation.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg added nearly $1 million more to his compensation package in 2019. That 4% boost all stemmed from “other” compensation, which includes personal security and travel expenses for Zuckerberg and his family. The rest stayed the same for Zuckerberg — his salary remained at $1, and he did not receive a bonus or stock compensation.

The social network increased sales 26% year-over-year, resulting in more than $70 billion in revenue in 2019. Those same gains will be tougher to maintain this year, however, as Zuckerberg and his team look to navigate a collapsing digital ad market due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

That’s not a typo — Jack Dorsey, for the second year in a row, only made $1.40 for running Twitter. (The amount pays homage to Twitter’s original limit of 140 characters per tweet.) Tiny salaries aren’t completely foreign to major tech execs, but they tend to be offset by large stock payments or other forms of compensation.

That’s not the case for Dorsey, though, as he led Twitter to a 13.7% year-over-year bump in annual revenue to $3.5 billion. But don’t send him a Venmo — er, Cash app payment — just yet. Dorsey is also the head of Square, the financial services company behind Cash app, and has a net worth of more than $3 billion. He recently pledged to give away $1 billion of his wealth to help combat COVID-19.

It was a rebound year for Evan Spiegel and Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, in 2019. Snapchat, after a rough 2018 that was punctuated by a botched Android app update, saw sales spike 45% to $1.7 billion, as both users and advertisers gave it a fresh look last year.

Spiegel’s compensation package doubled in 2019, despite his salary remaining at $1. And for the second consecutive year, he didn’t take home any money from stock, either — a far cry from the $636 million he received in stock options in 2017. His pay stemmed from $1.67 million in “other compensation,” which Snap attributed to personal security for Spiegel and his family.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • [email protected] • Twitter: @tonymaglio

Sean Burch

Sean Burch

Tech reporter • [email protected] • @seanb44 

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • [email protected] • Twitter: @tim_bays

Trey Williams

Trey Williams

Film Reporter covering the biz • [email protected] • Twitter: @trey3williams


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