TV, entertainment titans rule ranks of best-paid CEOs

CBS CEO Les Moonves was the second highest paid CEO in 2014, according to a study carried out by executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press.
CBS CEO Les Moonves was the second highest paid CEO in 2014, according to a study carried out by executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press. Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

They’re not Hollywood stars, they’re not TV personalities, and they don’t play in a rock band, but their pay packages are in the same league.

Six of the 10 highest-paid CEOs last year worked in the media industry, according to a study by the executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press.

The best-paid chief executive of a large American company was David Zaslav, head of Discovery Communications, the operator of the pay-TV channel that is home to “Shark Week.” His total compensation more than quadrupled to $156.1 million in 2014 after he extended his contract.

Leslie Moonves of CBS held on to second place in the rankings despite a drop in pay. His package totaled $54.4 million.

The remaining media-industry CEOs, from entertainment giants Viacom, Walt Disney, Comcast and Time Warner, have ranked among the nation’s highest-paid executives for at least four years, according to the study.

One reason for the high pay in the industry is that its CEOs are dealing with well-paid individuals.

“The talent, the actors and directors and writers, they’re being paid a lot of money,” said Steven Kaplan, a finance professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “In industries where the talent makes a lot of money, the CEO makes a lot of money as well.”

Pay packages for CEOs overall grew for the fifth straight year in 2014, driven by a rising stock market that pushed up the value of executive stock awards. Median compensation for the heads of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies rose to a record $10.6 million, up from $10.5 million the year before, according to the pay study.

Peer pressure is another factor driving up compensation. The board members responsible for setting CEO pay typically consider what the heads of similar companies make. If pay for one goes up, it will likely rise for others.

For the chieftains of media, other factors also boost pay.

Several work at companies where a few major shareholders control the vote. Media magnate Sumner Redstone controls almost 80 percent of the voting stock at CBS and Viacom. Because of his large holdings, Redstone can easily override the concerns of other investors about the level of CEO pay.

At Comcast, which owns NBC and Universal Studios, CEO and Chairman Brian Roberts controls a third of his company’s voting stock. That means he has substantial influence on the pay that he is awarded. Comcast had no comment when contacted by the AP for this report.

Media stocks have climbed strongly the past five years. An index of media companies in the S&P 500 has risen 194 percent, compared with a gain of 93 percent for the broader S&P 500.

Discovery’s stock price has climbed almost fivefold since it started trading as a public company in September 2008.

Top-paid CEOs

The 10 highest-paid CEOs for 2014, as calculated by The Associated Press and Equilar, an executive pay data firm.

1. David Zaslav, Discovery Communications, $156.1 million, up 368%

2. Leslie Moonves, CBS, $54.4 million, down 17%

3. Philippe Dauman, Viacom, $44.3 million, up 19%

4. Robert Iger, Walt Disney, $43.7 million, up 27%

5. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, $42.1 million, up 69%

6. Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, $42 million, up 16%

7. Marc Benioff,, $39.9 million, up 27%

8. Jeffrey Leiden, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, $36.6 million, up 179%

9. Brian Roberts, Comcast, $33 million, up 5%

10. Jeffrey Bewkes, Time Warner, $32.7 million, unchanged