Exec Gets $39 Million Bonus For Making Bad Movies

In spite of a controversial time as CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav was paid $39 million last year.

By Sean Thiessen | Published

warner bros discovery david zaslav
David Zaslav

Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav made $39.3 million in 2022. Deadline reported the figure from a proxy statement the company filed with the SEC ahead of its Annual Meeting of Stockholders. Zaslav’s impressive earnings contrast his controversial decision making, including the cancellation of the Batgirl movie and the ousting of several beloved HBO Max series.

Warner Bros merge with Discovery completed last April, and David Zaslav had been named CEO the year before along with a $202 million stock option grant.

Streamers were spending out of their ears to bolster their libraries with original content that would draw and hook subscribers. But 2021 was the peak of streaming, and companies received a wake up call. The profitability outlook for streaming across the board was suddenly grim, and the film and TV industry went into cost-cutting mode.

Warner Bros Discovery was no exception, and high-profile choices from Davis Zaslav quickly made his company the rule. Projects like Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt were shelved and counted as losses so the company could save on taxes. Popular titles on HBO Max disappeared overnight, including the hit series Westworld, in order to cut back on residual costs and allow the company to license the shows elsewhere.

As Warner Bros Discovery continues to restructure, David Zaslav has taken a lot of the heat. Fans have not responded well to beloved and anticipated projects evaporating for the sake of tax breaks, and layoffs within the company have left many unemployed. But the complex strategy is on track to save WBD billions of dollars, and Zaslav and co. are preparing for the next chapter.

Back in January, Warner Bros Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels, whose $13.5 million 2022 earnings paled compared to those of David Zaslav, told Variety that the company’s restructuring phase is largely complete. Warner Bros Discovery is now focused on execution, as opposed to layoffs and write-offs.

“From my perspective, we really have command and control over the business now,” Wiedenfels said. “We’re really on track for a lot of asset value creation and free cash flow generation.” Warner Bros Discovery looks to be a leaner, meaner machine under David Zaslav. But what does that mean for fans?

It is impossible to say with certainty, but the hope is that WBD properties will emphasize quality over quality. Warner Bros Discovery sent shockwaves through the superhero world when David Zaslav appointed James Gunn and Peter Safran as co-heads of DC Studios. The duo have creatively cleaned house at DC, paving the way for an intriguing future while upsetting droves of fans in the process.

lord of the rings

Warner Bros Discovery has also announced plans for new Lord of the Rings films, and David Zaslav has personally expressed interest in giving the Harry Potter franchise new life. For now, franchises are still the way forward for the studio. The frequency and size of projects moving forward may change as the company focuses on maximizing the value of its assets.

The past two years have been a messy time for Warner Bros Discovery, and the millions of dollars David Zaslav has pocketed will surely raise some eyebrows. Zaslav is one of the highest paid CEOs in the country, and fans of flailing WBD properties may take issue with perceived discrepancy between his payment and performance.

What the newly minted Warner Bros Discovery and David Zaslav are truly capable of has yet to be determined. The company’s next few years will be telling, and as WBD examines its asset value, Zaslav’s millions will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion.