The value of Discovery Inc. CEO David Zaslav’s 2021 compensation package soared to $246 million, an enormous jump compared with $37.7 million in 2020 and $45.8 million in 2019. The company disclosed the compensation for Zaslav and other senior executives in a regulatory filing Monday.
In May of 2021, Zaslav signed a new employment contract through the end of 2027 that was designed to keep the veteran media executive at the company through its merger with AT&T’s WarnerMedia. The merger is expected to be completed in early Q2, the company says. Stock options that he received related to the extension boosted the calculated value of his annual compensation package, even though they didn’t lead to any immediate payouts. Much of the compensation will vest over the course of the agreement.
The Wall Street Journal at the time of the news of his contract extension last May pegged the value of the options, based on a complex formula, at around $190 million. Stock options give their holder the right to buy a share at a specified conversion price during a specified time frame and are meant to incentivize the holder to focus on creating shareholder value by focusing on growing the stock’s value. If the company’s stock price goes above the set conversion price, the holder gets the difference. If the stock’s value stays below the conversion price, the option holder can’t exercise the options and therefore doesn’t pocket any money.
Discovery pegged the value of the stock in the filing at $202 million.
In 2018, Zaslav had also earned $129.4 million thanks to stock option awards and other performance-based incentives tied to a new contract drove an increase in his compensation, but his 2021 compensation dwarfs that figure.
Discovery’s stock fell 32 percent in 2021, while its financials were mostly better. Its annual revenue increased 14 percent to $12.2 billion, but net income dropped 17 percent to $1.0 billion. Free cash flow, another profitability metric that shows a company’s ability to finance its business without the need for outside funding, climbed 4 percent to $2.4 billion.
The compensation disclosures come ahead of the planned merger of AT&T’s entertainment arm WarnerMedia and Discovery, which is expected to close during the current second quarter. The mega-deal will create the merged Warner Bros. Discovery, which will be led by Zaslav as CEO and his finance chief Gunnar Wiedenfels as CFO.
Zaslav and his team have said that the enlarged media and entertainment giant wants to take on such streaming giants as Netflix and the Walt Disney Co., but avoid overspending on streaming to focus on longer-term, sustainable profitability.
Discovery says its annual meeting will be held in a virtual format April 8, and will include a shareholder vote on the combined WB Discovery executive compensation plan. The merger is expected to be completed in early Q2, most likely in April.
The compensation package is all but assured to put Zaslav in the running as one of the highest-paid CEOs in America last year, once all the proxy filings are counted. Another CEO with media credentials, Apple’s Tim Cook, saw his pay rise to $99 million last year.