Olivia Wilde and David Zaslav arrive at AMC Lincoln Square 13 for the premiere of
Director Olivia Wilde and Warner Bros CEO at the premiere of 'Don't Worry Darling' in New York. Image Credit: REUTERS

Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav was awarded compensation of $49.7 million in 2023, a year when actors and writers went on strike for higher pay and the media giant initiated steep job cuts.

The figure, disclosed in a regulatory filing Friday, is about $10 million greater than Zaslav's pay in 2022. His compensation, and that of other senior Warner Bros. executives, was tied in part to the company's generation of free cash flow, an incentive for executives to produce income that could be used to reduce debt.

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Warner Bros. generated about $1 billion more cash than expected because it didn't produce film and TV shows during the strikes, but that number was excluded from Zaslav's pay calculations. The company's cash flow was still higher than projections due to revenue increases and cost reductions.

Shares of Warner Bros. rose 20 per cent in 2023. This year, following disappointing fourth-quarter results in which revenue and profits fell short of Wall Street forecasts, the stock hit an all-time low.

All told, Zaslav's 2023 pay came in far below the $246.6 million he received at Discovery Inc. in 2021, the year he embarked on a deal to acquire WarnerMedia from AT&T Inc. At the time, the compensation package, the vast majority of which was in stock options, drew criticism from proxy advisers.

His pay now is in the range of other media moguls. Netflix Inc.'s co-CEOs Ted Sarandos and Greg Peters made $49.8 million and $40.1 million respectively last year, according to a filing Thursday. Netflix shares rose 65 per cent in 2023.

Walt Disney Co.'s Bob Iger made $31.6 million, a big increase from the prior year after returning to the CEO job. Disney shares rose 3.9 per cent. Paramount Global's Bob Bakish earned $31.3 million in 2023, a year in which the shares fell 12 per cent.