Here’s a question to ask yourself if you aren’t sure whether media mogul pay reflects merit or cronyism: Did Viacom and CBS executive chairman Sumner Redstone deserve $93M, an 80% year-over-year increase, in the combined compensation he received from the companies in 2013? The answer to this query, and others like it, seems especially relevant here in Deadline’s fourth annual effort to try to make sense of the outsized sums media companies pay their leaders. They’re among the most lavishly compensated in corporate America where CEOs made 206 times what the average worker did in 2011, up from 26.5 times in 1978, economist Thomas Piketty notes in his surprise bestselling new book about growing wealth disparities. That strikes many as fundamentally unfair: The California legislature is weighing a bill that would raise tax rates for companies that give their CEOs more than 100 times the average pay for their workers.
Here’s our contribution to the discussion: a tally of the highest-paid executives in media, with metrics and analysis to help you decide what they’re worth. The chart on the right (click to enlarge) shows media execs whose compensation exceeded $10M in 2013 according to company proxies. Below you’ll find our in-depth look at the top 11 earners on the list. Why 11? That enables us to add Rupert Murdoch, who shouldn’t be left out of any discussion of media wealth and power. Those in this Group of 11 collectively made $448.6M in 2013, +15.6% vs 2012, with their median pay +8.3% to $32.5M.
Out Of Whack – 2012
Out Of Whack — 2011
Out Of Whack — 2010
One of the things you’ll see is how much Redstone contributes to the high level of executive pay in media. He and other leaders at corporations he controls occupy four of the 11 spots on our list. That has a ripple effect: All companies represented here (with a caveat, discussed below, for News Corp) include Viacom and CBS in the list of peers against which they benchmark pay for their own execs. And Redstone isn’t all that unusual. You frequently see high pay at enterprises, like many in media, run by families that own little equity but control decision-making by virtue of their supervoting shares.
Boards usually justify their high outlays by pointing to metrics of company success, which they credit to the CEOs. But while those on this list are smart and shrewd, it’s worth asking how much of their good fortune — including their rising stock prices — also represents good luck. Keep in mind that all of the media powers represented by this year’s top 11 own broadcast and/or pay TV channels. Cable and satellite companies complain that these programmers have oligopoly power to raise prices on distributors. Many are aggressively doing so, which distributors say pressures them to raise your rates. Programmers also benefit from a new source of cash: license fees from digital services including Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Our list and the charts that follow include Deadline’s annual Out-of-Whack analysis. It illustrates not only that CEOs make vastly more than the public. Some boards are far more generous to the top dog than they are to others in the C-suite. That could be a sign that directors are in the CEO’s pocket, or lack confidence in their executive bench, many corporate governance experts say. In any case, research shows that lopsided outlays promote groupthink, damage morale, and often depress a company’s stock price. It’s a judgement call as to how much of a disparity is too much. Yet those who track the phenomenon typically become alarmed when a CEO makes more than three times the median for the four other top execs whose income must be disclosed to shareholders per SEC rules. Eighteen of the 30 companies we monitor and that have filed information for 2013 failed the test, often miserably, up from 14 out of 31 last year. Read More »