While Hollywood TV and film writers are striking for moderate raises, the highest-paid entertainment executive was paid nearly half a billion dollars in the last five years, a new report from the Los Angeles Times shows.
David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., was paid $498,915,318 between 2018 and 2022, according to Times analysis of executive compensation at 10 publicly held media and entertainment companies. That’s a staggering 384 times the average pay of a Hollywood writer.
Overall, average pay for Hollywood’s top execs climbed to $28 million in 2021, up 53% from 2018 (and roughly 108 times the average writer’s pay) according to the analysis, which uses compensation data from the research firm Equilar and includes stock options, base salaries, bonuses and other perks.
Meanwhile, average pay for Hollywood writers has remained virtually flat at about $260,000 as 2021, the Times reports. Median screenwriter pay has dropped 14% when adjusted for inflation over the last five years, according to statistics from the Writers Guild of America, the TV and film writers’ union with 11,500 members.
The top 10 highest-paid Hollywood executives in the last 5 years includes:
- David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.: $498,915,318
- Ari Emanuel, Endeavor Group Holdings Inc.: $346,935,367
- Reed Hastings, Netflix: $209,780,532
- Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co.: $195,092,460
- Ted Sarandos, Netflix: $192,171,581
- Rupert Murdoch, Fox Corp.: $174,929,867
- Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corp.: $171,359,374
- Brian Roberts, Comcast Corp.: $170,158,088
- Joseph Ianniello, Paramount Global: $152,793,125
- Patrick Whitesell, Endeavor Group Holdings Inc.: $143,584,597
The analysis notes that 2019 figures are not available for Endeavor, Joseph Ianniello left Paramount in 2020, and Disney chief Bob Iger left the company for most of 2022.
Hollywood executive pay dropped in 2022 due to stock market volatility and investor pressure to make streaming profitable. Company leaders have responded to these economic challenges by resorting to mass layoffs in recent months: Disney and Warner Bros. have both cut thousands of jobs, for example.
TV and film writers have been on strike since May 2 after the WGA did not reach a new contract agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents 350 major studios and streamers, and included proposals to raise writers’ wages, establish streaming residuals, regulate the use of artificial intelligence in their work, and other protections.
In an outline of proposals, the WGA says it is asking for 6% increases in minimum rates for the first year, followed by raises of 5% for the following two. Studios countered by offering 4% increases in minimum rates in the first year, followed by raises of 3% and 2%, which the AMPTP says is the “highest first-year increase offered to the WGA in more than 25 years.”
“If they gave us everything that we asked for, it would make a difference of 2% in the bottom line that the studios currently are paying,” Kaitlin Fontana, a film and TV writer who sits on the WGA East council, told the LA Times. “That’s a rounding error for a lot of these guys.”
Hollywood is just one example of how executive pay has ballooned over the years and has skyrocketed faster than the typical wage growth for everyday workers.
The average CEO at a top U.S. company was paid $27.8 million in 2021, including stock awards — 399 times as much as the typical worker — according to research published by the Economic Policy Institute.
From 1978 to 2021, CEO pay grew by 1,460%, adjusted for inflation, versus just 18.1% for the typical worker. Even during the pandemic, CEO pay increased by 30%, compared with just 4% for the average employee.
The last WGA strike began in 2007 and lasted 100 days, costing the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion as productions halted and out-of-work writers, actors and producers cut back on spending.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which includes CNBC.
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