David Zaslav Says Studios Overpaid To End WGA Strike; Scribes Deal Valued At $700M

David Zaslav has a funny way of making friends.

In a week where the Warner Bros Discovery CEO once again alienated almost everyone with the cutting of the completed Coyote vs Acme for a tax write down, Zaslav now is praising the Writers Guild of America, his foe for several months this year.

“They are right about almost everything,” the exec told the New York Times about the scribes and the deal they made with the studios after five bitter months that shut Hollywood down. “So what if we overpay? I’ve never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset,” Zaslav added in what seems like a 180 and more from where he, the AMPTP and others in the CEO Gang of Four were back in the spring.

With Zas, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Disney’s Bob Iger, and NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley stepping in personally for the final push, the AMPTP and the WGA reached a tentative agreement at sunset on September 24. With the strike officially ending a few days later after 148 days, the scribes digitally hit the ballot box to almost 100% to approve the deal in a ratification vote that concluded on October 9.

Making big gains in AI guardrails, residuals, staffing levels and employment duration, data transparency, and health and pension contributions, the value of the WGA deal was estimated by the Guild to about $700 million over three years. While not the over $1 billion the SAG-AFTRA agreement is said to be worth for the much larger Guild (160,000 members to the WGA’s 12,000), it is a very long way from Iger’s Marie Antoinette remarks of July that the striking writers and about to strike actors were “just not realistic” in their demands and “quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Vilified directly in the early weeks of the WGA strike for his paycheck ($40 million in 2022, $246 million in 2021, thanks to stock option and more), and his apparent tin ear to the writers concerns, Zaslav was instrumental both in and outside the negotiation room in shepherding the deal to its successful conclusion. “He put on his lawyers’ hat and got to work while Iger and Sarandos worked out the broad strokes with the writers,” an industry insider noted of the WBD CEO’s role in talks.

Interestingly, Zaslav has nothing to say in the sprawling and fairly sharp toothed NYT profile about the SAG-AFTRA strike or its November 8 resolution. But perhaps Jonathan Mahler, James B. Stewart and Benjamin Mullins had put the deeply researched (and Deadline quoting) piece to bed by then.

In fact, the on-the-record quote about the writers and their new three-year deal is the only directly comment from Zas in for the Gray Lady’s Sunday Magazine piece. As the title “How David Zaslav Blew Up Hollywood” strongly suggests, the article spends most of its time listing the exec’s litany of missteps, overreaches and debt managing, including lots of layoffs, cancelling shows, films and more.

Already online, the piece will be in the November 19 edition of the NYT Magazine.

Speaking of overpay — the nonprofit As You Sow’s annual list of the 25 most overpaid CEOs, out today, had Zaslav at no. 25 (he was no. 1 last year) judging that over $25 million of his $39 million compensation package in 2022 was “overpay.” 

The figure repped a CEO to worker pay ratio of 227/1.  

Some 64% of institutional shares and 49% of reported shares voted against Zaslav’s pay for that year, said As You Sow. The votes on pay are advisory – or non-binding. But stockholders are increasingly restive and the numbers have been front and center in union action, including the writers’ and actors’ strikes. 

Last year, Zaslav topped the list with a package totaling $246 million – of which the group said $232 million ranked as overpay. 

The numbers are for 2022 since annual executive pay for companies with a calendar year end aren’t out until the following spring.  CEO pay packages include stock options and grants that vest over time and may be underwater. 

The shareholder advocacy group measures compensation against three metrics: total shareholder return; the number of shares that are voted against a CEOs pay package at the annual meeting; and the ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay — a gap that has been steadily increasing. It weights the first two data points at 40% each, and the pay ratio at 20% to develop its ranking. For 2022, Netflix came in at no. 7, Paramount Global at no. 16 for overpaid CEOs.

WBD had no comment on the NYT story or Zas’ remarks. The WGA did not respond to request for comment on Zaslav’s statement about the scrbes’ deal. We will update this post if and when they do.

Jill Goldsmith contributed to this post

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