Mega Payday: Discovery CEO David Zaslav Earns $156.1 Million for 2014

David Zaslav Discovery
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav received an astounding $156.1 million in compensation last year, the company disclosed Friday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The vast majority of the windfall comes from more than $144 million in stock awards that Zaslav received after setting a new six-year employment contract last year.

In fairness, those awards will vest over time, which means that Zaslav did not actually command a $156.1 million paycheck. SEC rules mandate that Discovery record the entire value of stock awards to be doled out over the six-year contract in the first year that they are granted. Zaslav’s paydays in the coming years will be far lower. In 2013, Zaslav received $33 million, with $22.5 million coming from stock awards.

The stock awards are largely tied to the company’s performance during the next six years. That means his actual haul could wind up being nothing if Discovery’s stock falls below pre-determined targets, or it could be worth more, if the share price exceeds those benchmarks.

Nonetheless, the symbolism of a nine-figure payday in a single year is sure to stir outrage and debate among corporate watchdogs and governance experts.

In the filing, Discovery emphasized Zaslav’s track record in expanding the company’s operations and diversifying its international portfolio since he signed on as CEO in 2007. The company’s market cap has soared from $5 billion when he joined to $20 billion in 2014.

“This contract rewards Mr. Zaslav for the value he has created and the continued strategic direction he provides and requires sustained performance over time for that award to have value,” the filing states. “At the end of his contract, Mr. Zaslav will own a substantial amount of equity of Discovery, which reinforces his alignment with our shareholders and encourages long-term ownership of our stock.”

The new contract also has clauses designed to ensure that Zaslav has incentive to remain at the helm through the term of the deal. He has to hold on to 60% of his Discovery stock through the contract that runs through the end of 2019. He also has to use 35% of the cash proceeds from any stock sales to buy more Discovery shares.

Zaslav’s base salary is set at $3 million for the six-year term of the contract. His potential cash bonus will be limited to a maximum of $6.6 million for the next few years, increasing to $9 million in the final two years of the deal.

Zaslav is likely to wind up as one of the largest individual shareholders in Discovery by the time his contract is up. And he could become the single most powerful shareholder under a deal that Zaslav struck last year with John Malone, the cable mogul who has long had a sizable stake in Discovery Communications.

Zaslav has the right of first refusal to buy Malone’s preferred shares that give him 28.7% of the voting rights in Discovery — should Malone decided to sell. Malone (as an individual, not through Liberty Media) and Advance/Newhouse Communications, which controls 24.9% of voting shares, have been the dominant shareholders in Discovery for most of its 30-year history.

Zaslav’s stock-inflated pay packet is big, but it’s still not as big as the $384 million stock grant that Apple CEO Tim Cook received in 2011 when the company was eager to keep him in place following the death of Steve Jobs.

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  1. Well it depends on how much the entry-level workers of this company make. If the entry level positions are making wages or salaries well above the median income average per household, then the workers have nothing to worry about. If they’re only making minimum wage, that is messed up.

  2. AmericanDreamHopeful says:

    Oh and get this. More of our jobs here at the company have been sent over seas, our training budgets have been slashed to nothing and salary caps are being put in.

  3. NowYouKnow says:

    Discovery Channel? Who watches that?

  4. Jamie Juhase says:

    Stock options is the right way to pay someone. Your pay is as the company goes, the company goes up and then so your stock options(money) does to! And the same the other way . stock goes down and so does your money. Produce or you get nothing. Very simple

    • Oh aren’t you kind to men who make more money in one year than a person could possibly need in one lifetime. The atmosphere of fraud and predatory lending (meant to get the cash and the collateral when the gig is up) we are in leads me to believe this sum is anything but honestly earned money. Stock buybacks is what is keeping their Ponzi scheme alive – Kiss your 401K goodbye while you kiss this man’s boot.

  5. Itshay Edhay says:

    Yawn. I’m old school when you didn’t care what someone else made. At least he’s not shooting off his mouth about how he should be paying more taxes. (Warren the Weasel Buffet) He’s well educated, probably works about 14 hour days and I’m sure worked hard to get where he is. Good job to him.

    Now those of you who are complaining……go back to the welfare line and keep blaming everyone else.

    • David Alpert says:

      He’s not “well-educated” – he graduated from no-name college and a second-tier law school. So what if he works 14 hour days – so do millions of other people. Do you honestly believe the success of a major media company is due to one person? Oh, and by the way, Discovery’s stock isn’t succeeding – it’s lagged the S&P by FORTY SEVEN PERCENT. That’s right – in the greatest run up in equities in nearly three decades, Discovery has lagged the market by 47%. I’m glad you don’t care what he makes, but it’s a publicly-traded company, and stock holders do and should (not to mention the employees of the company). I am a capitalist and a conservative, but I won’t let ideology blind me to what this is – theft, straight from the pockets of the stock holders, and an insult to the workers of the company.

  6. JM_in_San_Diego_CA says:

    “…watchdogs and governance experts” ought have nothing to say about it.

    Personally, I can’t imagine how anybody would deserve that much pay but guess what? It’s none of my business, either.

  7. Dr.A says:

    It’s these media-types that claim Capitalism is corrupt and demand everyone else get “the same pay!” Here’s the real corruption – every liberal media source! But since they panhandle for Obama, you won’t find any investigation here…. Just like no one will investigate the IRS (Ms.-Private email-Learner), or any other corruption in this Administration thanks to a corrupt DOJ!

  8. Direwolf says:

    I don’t have a problem with him making $156 million. What I want to know is how much of a raise did the average Joe get? Or did they get told that they couldn’t get a raise because we’re investing it or your business unit did well but one of the other BUs you were grouped with didn’t meet it’s numbers so you don’t get a raise. I hear this all the time from the giant corporation I work for. I know, I know, leave the company, blah, blah, blah, but I’m three years from retirement and really can’t.

  9. BW says:

    The company’s market cap has soared from $5 billion when he joined to $20 billion in 2014. Discovery has an in-house wellness center so employees can see primary care doctors and pick up prescriptions in the offices. They have added over 1000 jobs in the last 4 years alone for a total of 5700, or a REAL INCREASE of over 17.5%. Earnings per share were up 13% last year, paid $610 million in federal taxes, and were again named one of the best 100 companies to work for by Fortune Magazine.

    Let’s run the math: $156,100,000/$15,000,000,000 * 100% = 1.0407%

    His total POTENTIAL compensation over the next six years represents roughly 1% of the INCREASE in market value of the corporation.

    How many of you work on a 1% commission???????????

    Barrack Obama meanwhile has increased America’s debt by over $7 TRILLION, had our credit rating lowered, the labor participation number is at a record low, record number of people are on food stamps, he and his family live like royalty as they jet around the world, yet despite all of his failures, he has an annual compensation worth over $300 million for the last six years.

    You tell me who’s getting away with a crime here.

    As Vince Lombardi said, “only losers complain”.

  10. Steven Kalka says:

    Maybe more tech innovation will make Discovery’s services obsolete, as more programming shifts the web and viewers increasingly employ streaming. That will its ceo compensatoon a moot point.

  11. limboaz says:

    Discovery viewership was down 5% last year in the demo, and yet Zaslav makes off like a bandit. The entertainment/cable industry is a cartel that just keeps squeezing people for more money even as ratings plummet.

  12. Steven Kalka says:

    I don’t think his compensation is so outrageous. The ceo takes greater risk by taking part of his compensation in stock shares, and limiting his right to sell them. That’s a good incentive for performance. If the company fails, his stocks are worth nothing. He would never get 150 mill in straight salary from them without the shares. What this issue has to due with LGBT rights escapes me. Does mass socialism ever eliminate bigotry, or does it just change the scapegoats of popular dissatisfactions?

  13. A. Polston says:

    Only in this current political climate, would what other people make, be ANYONES business! ASPIRE to this sorta wealth,……DON’T envy or covet it, as some would have you,……BELIEVE that YOU or ANYONE else too, can achieve this,……something incidious is being FOISTED on the populous with income envy,…….! I writing this, while on probation, broke and unemployed,……!

  14. Curmudgeon10 says:

    I hope Discovery makes some hard hitting pieces on the income gap this coming season!

  15. Capitol State says:

    It is time for the revolution of ideas to arise for the common people. Join with us and become one of the Dear Leaders soldiers. Do some research and become one of Americas Peoples Army.Stand with Obama for the future of the common man, women,LGBT, and those other poor victims of the capitalistic tyrany that the for masters set for us to be used and buried when we expire on this earth! Join us and do not stand in the way! Praise to Obama and Our America!!

    • Mark says:

      Put you tinfoil hat back on, and tell your mother to bring your sippy-cup to your basement hideout. It’s nap time.

  16. I don’t care about the stock options. What about the 9-11 million annual salary? For Discovery?

  17. jhkjhkjhk says:

    A new boogeyman for liberals. Move over, Koch brothers. Of course, entertainers (sports stars, actors, musicians, software zillionaires) get a free pass from OWS. They only hate businessmen. So which category does this guy fall under?

  18. So he made 156 million in a year… this is private enterprise (not government) … it is Discovery’s money… if Discovery is happy with this and Zaslav is happy with this… I fail to see any issue… Discovery can do whatever they want with their money… it is not for any of us to say what they should do or should not do with it.

    • John R Scott says:

      Charles Uri Farley – The “entertainment” industry pushes up the price of all of our goods and services giving away money like this. Especially the price of cable and satellite television and internet. They have to get the money from somewhere, and that somewhere is advertising dollars and service fees. And where do you think the advertisers get the money to pay for these guys to own 8 or 9 homes each? They just reached into your pocket (and everybody else’s) and gave him whatever they could. Do not be surprised if they get into a spat with a couple of cable providers over increased fees in the very near future as a result. We pay for that.

      • Nate Schleprock says:

        I cancelled my cable two years ago. If you don’t like how part of your cable bill pays for part of his compensation, cancel yours also. Nothing’s stopping you except your desire not to.

      • guest says:

        So don’t watch and don’t buy the products advertised on their channel. It is capitalism and it is that simple. You don’t HAVE to give them a penny of your money but if you choose to then that is your own decision just like paying this guy what they feel he is worth is their decision.

        Take yourself out of the equation if you are really this upset over it and if you don’t then you are just a bitter whiner who doesn’t have the courage of your convictions.

    • Tim Benner says:

      Yes private enterprise aided by our Governments’ monopoly blessing. The next six years Discovery Channel will play re-runs and cash in big time. Monthly subscribers have not choice. Either buy the package or not. Discovery takes $1 every month from each of us Sheep.

  19. Johnsmith says:

    Zaslav is a not exceptional in any way. That number is outrageous. Literally anybody with common sense and a basic understanding of the industry would have performed the same. What a waste of money.

  20. Bayrider says:

    Cumulus Media is just as bad if not worse. The Dickey Brothers are a top down company that works cheap locally and takes all the money to the top. This sacrifices any sort of being local. They have a national country channel that is basically broadcast over all their country stations. Talented people have lost jobs in their effort to be media moguls.

    At some point the FCC needs to investigate how they take money and promotions to add records. Sure it’s going to the company, but it’s still payola. It’s pay for play and they do it to the tune of millions for the company.

  21. Jack Inmanz says:

    I used to wonder why companies buy back their stock when the prices are high. So they can give them away to execs in lieu of taxable cash.

  22. Falcon78 says:

    I love it–Discovery, a favorite of the Democrat/liberal/progressive “save the earth” crowd, gives the CEO a “1% of the 1%” pay day. (And Zaslav is laughing all the way to the bank.) If it weren’t for double standards, they’d have no standards at all. If Zaslav didn’t come to work tomorrow, do you think Discovery would fail or not do well? Does anyone really think that someone couldn’t be found to do just as good a job for 1/2, or 1/3, or 1/4 of that money?

  23. billrow says:

    Private company making their own decisions…what is the problem?

    • Anonymous says:

      First of all, a stunning lack of knowledge permeates many of these ‘yay team business’ type comments such as yours – it’s a publicly traded company, traded on the Nasdaq and must comply with the SEC. Um, that’s why you have heard about this (read the article if you haven’t).

      Discovery Network channels are bundled in many cable packages, you pay for them whether you watch them or not. They make their own decisions with the money they make. Some of that money comes from people who may never use their services. A la carte pricing – yeah, maybe less of a problem, but it’s still a lot to pay an employee. He’s an employee – he may have grown the business, but he was reporting to someone. He’s not Steve Jobs.

      I guess you’re thinking you’re supporting conservative values or something. Well, many investors are indeed quite well off, but they aren’t necessarily big fans of high executive compensation, and investors led the way to get stock options counted as an expense in the first place. If you want to take more of a middle class perspective, people’s retirement funds are invested, as well as state employee pension funds.

      I’m sure he appreciates you sticking up for him, though.

      • Anonymous says:

        There’s no way to reply to ‘guest’ directly – I don’t think you know what you are talking about. I actually do not pay for cable right now for this very reason, and I am indeed trying out alternatives such as Sling. I am thinking of putting up a blog with my comments on this process, including links to web pages on which I have made comments about this and other issues facing the evolving television landscape.

        Thank you for your invitation to go back to Econ 101, but I’m pretty comfortable in my knowledge of these issues. I’d love to post my CV if it weren’t off topic. When a company is sold publicly, that’s exactly what it means – it’s no longer a privately owned business.

      • guest says:

        So don’t pay for cable, stand behind your statements if it upsets you so much and cancel your cable tv. Stop being a whiner and do something about it if you don’t like it, or shut up.

        BTW, a publicly traded company does NOT mean it isn’t a private company. You show an incredible lack of knowledge thinking that just because stock in a corporation is sold publicly that that somehow changes it to something other than a privately owned business. You might need to go back to Econ 101.

  24. limboaz says:

    If I could force my customers to buy a whole bunch of stuff they don’t want so that they can get a few things they do want (like how the cable bundle works), I could get super rich too.

  25. Charlie G. says:

    No doubt structured in a tax efficient manner – yet another liberal that will want to elect a big government guy like Obama and claim we should all pay more taxes and claim support for the occupy wall st crowd. Easy to do when you have $50 to $100 million in the bank – you cant spend it all anyway – so why not let your socialist Obama buddy have as much as he wants. Meanwhile those of us who work hard but sometimes wait years for a big payday and then when we get is watch 50% go out the door are supposed to grin and bear it – F you Hollywood libs. No really R you

  26. ONTIME says:

    What’s the gripe here? The guy performed and the board approves…the sissies of the world are still whining about their lot while others strive to succeed they complain about work ethic and reward… want a better more productive world then lean how to vote for those who strive to succeed without walking on the backs of others……..learn to vote.

  27. Notice how the CEO’s push cultural Marxism? For example Zaslav’s show about Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old transgender and an LGBT activist, has been given a new reality show. It’ll be titled All That Jazz and will air on TLC.

    Well since they love Marxism so much, let’s push economic Marxism on these fat cat CEO’s and start distributing the wealth they ” earned” (ahem).

    Don’t subsidize degenerate media.

    Dump your cable.

  28. iambicpentamaster says:

    The market bears it, the jealous hate it.

    Same song, 127,000th verse…

  29. Another reason why I dumped cable, put up an antenna, and get movies for free from my library.

    I don’t want to subsidize these parasites.

  30. George Johnson says:

    This is what’s driving immigration and depressed wages. Depress the wages of the American people (because the CEOs think you make too much), it’s just more money for them like this. Just think if they can lower the pay of everybody in the company by 25%/50%. Just think how much larger these pay packages would be.

  31. danhan1 says:

    What’s wrong with being paid for performance? It’s a small price to pay for corporate value quadrupling in seven years. Let’s hope the growth continues for all Discovery stock holders.

    • George Johnson says:

      No problem with high salaries, but what’s wrong with sharing with the employees or investors too?

  32. Sam Colt says:

    Liberal Progg philosophy: “Do as I say…….NOT …as……I……..’LOOK’! A Squirrel!”
    Gruber was right about those progg minorities. I don’t blame him for exploiting their stupidity.

  33. gavinwca says:

    All these liberal flower children of the 60’s and 70’s that protested big corporations and big government in that time are now the big government and ceo’s of these corporations. They are now demanding the pay days, benefits and government control that the ceo’s they protested against in previous years could not have even dreamed of receiving.

  34. Defiant says:

    As long as it isn’t tax dollars…it’s nobody’s business is it to complain…

  35. Larry Dean says:

    Another penis envy story. What’s wrong with someone making a ton of money. Don’t most aspire to do that…but of course believe they will be the first righteous rich man when that happens.

  36. TM says:

    So he must be a republican, right?

  37. Tom Ford says:

    He must work very very hard.

  38. GeorgeIII says:

    Everyone here complaining about their cable bundling and ridiculous prices and sub-par programs – first of all, you’re right, the cable business is a racket. Second of all, it will probably change soon. The cable business is a free market, and will correct itself once it’s clear that it has overstepped its bounds. It happens all the time – cartels and titans within a business sector dissolve because they overcharge for sub-quality product, and the public gets fed up and turns to a company that develops what they want. It’s the beauty of capitalism. I know plenty of people who have cancelled their cable for this very reason, and I would wager that pretty soon it will start hurting theses companies, and the bundling policy will change. Or they will lose out to a different company.

  39. Davids Alter Ego says:

    So, in other words, David Zaslav did not EARN $156M last year. Stupid, sensationalistic morons.

  40. Freddy Krueger says:

    Being a propagandist for the New World Order pays well!

  41. limboaz says:

    The whole pay TV industry is a crooked greedfest. If his pay was based on how many people actually watch the discovery networks, his pay would be WAY less. Bring accountability to the cable industry and break up the bundles. Cable and TV execs will then actually deserve the money they earn.

  42. Peter Ice says:

    Increased the market cap by $15,000,000,000.00 and that is all they gave him? Cheap ass board of directors.

  43. fej says:

    …and this is our business because…..?????

    • fej says:

      What we need is an end to cable bundling and a beginning to A La Carte programming where the public gets to buy the channels it wants and, more importantly, NOT BUY then channels it doesn’t,

      This will lower prices, result in improved service to the customer and increase the quality of programming as content providers have to compete for the end-user’s dollar.

      • limboaz says:

        Exactly. Aren’t you tired of people saying that the pay TV business is a free market!!?? It is a cartel that rips people off.

  44. I could remember the days when the discovery channel used to show quality shows that you could really learn something from. Today, not so much, its 95% reality TV which is as valuable to the learning experience as falling out a thirteen story apartment window and landing on concrete. And yet he gets paid huge bucks for helping in the process of dumbing down America. What ever happened to educational TV, I have to ask you. Discovery used to be a big part of that. Now it is like all other channel, churning out junk. No thanks, I’ll stick to listening to music, at least there is no dumbing down in that unless you are into RAP which I am not

  45. abunudnik says:

    “In fairness, those awards will vest over time, which means that Zaslav did not actually command a $156…. That means his actual haul could wind up being nothing if Discovery’s stock falls below pre-determined targets,…”

    In fairness, your article is a sensationalist lie then. In fairness, the 156 million number is pure fiction. In fairness, this article is garbage. In fairness, you ought to at least change the headline.

  46. no says:

    Shareholders need to be required to vote, yea or ney, on compensation of the executive team and the board of directors.

  47. Richard says:

    So, under his direction the company’s value increases $15 Billion (from $5B to $20B). He gets $156M for making that happen. That’s 1%. The rest of that $15B ($14,850,000,000 or 99%) goes to other people. I’m sure every company would love to pay a CEO that amount if they quadrupled in value every 8 years.

  48. Mr.B says:

    This is why we pay outrageous monthly cable bills. I’m getting sick of paying through the nose to watch endless commercials and substandard programming.

    • mirted says:

      No, what is needed for people to stop using cable and find other entertainment outlets. That will drive the companies to find other, more acceptable models.
      I hate paying a bunch extra just to get the one channel out of 75 that I want, but I do it. I won’t when the value to me is not enough.

    • fej says:

      Incorrect. The reason for that is bundling by the cable companies.

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