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David Zaslav is Discovery's $52-million man

April 2, 2012 |  1:52 pm


Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav might have had a rocky year in 2011 -- his joint ventures OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network and the small kids' network HUB stumbled badly -- but the struggles didn't affect his compensation.

Zaslav's 2011 pay package, which included salary, stock, options and other perks, was valued at $52.4 million -- more than 20% over the 2010 level of $42.6 million. 

The large package propels Zaslav into the upper stratosphere of media compensation, and makes him among the highest paid executives in the nation.

In comparison, Robert Iger, chief executive of the much larger Walt Disney Co., collected a $31.4-million package last year. Viacom Inc.'s Philippe Dauman last year received $43 million (considerably less than Dauman's 2010 compensation of $84.5 million). Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes took a slight pay cut last year, collecting $25.9 million.

Zaslav's base salary was nearly $3 million.  His stock and option grants were valued at $44 million, according to the company's proxy filed late Friday.  Some of the options were allocated in 2008, when Discovery's stock was trading at below $20 a share.  On Monday, Discovery's shares traded around $51.

A Discovery spokesman said 90% of Zaslav's compensation was due to stock appreciation.

In the proxy filing, Discovery said it had a strong year financially, with revenue climbing 12% to $4.2 billion. Net income from continuing operations jumped 75% to $1.1 billion.

But there were setbacks. Wall Street analysts have been discounting the value of OWN. Some are questioning whether the company will write down the network's book value this year.

Discovery, which owns 50% of OWN, has invested more than $312 million in the channel. Winfrey owns the other 50%.

Winfrey on Monday conceded that OWN has been trickier than she had anticipated during an appearance on "CBS This Morning."

According to Discovery's filings, its other highly compensated executives included founder and Chairman John Hendricks, who received a package valued at $8.9 million; Chief Financial Officer Bradley E. Singer, whose compensation was valued at $4.2 million; and Mark G. Hollinger, president of Discovery Networks International, whose compensation topped $5.5 million.  Former Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori, who left Discovery at the end of the  year, received $4.8 million.

Discovery declined further comment.

Oprah's success hasn't followed her to OWN

Oprah Winfrey acknowledges her OWN mistakes

OWN cable network to cut jobs, replace executives

-- Meg James  

Photo: Partners Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav toast their joint venture OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.  Credit: Robin Layton / OWN