Pay for NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke soars to $46 million, among corporate America's highest

NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke received $46 million in compensation last year, boosted by $10 million of stock options granted in a new employment agreement.

Burke’s 2016 pay package, a 37% increase over the previous year, makes him one of the highest-paid executives in corporate America.

His compensation surpassed that of his boss, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, according to a filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Comcast owns NBCUniversal.

Burke, 58, has been NBCUniversal’s chief since Comcast Corp. acquired the media company from General Electric Co. in 2011. He signed a four-year contract last July, which came with the $10 million in additional stock options.

The grant was designed to reward him for his “continuing outstanding work in improving NBCUniversal’s businesses and results, and to incent him to continue to make decisions that build long-term value for NBCUniversal,” according to Comcast’s proxy.

New York-based NBCUniversal includes the Universal Pictures movie studio in Los Angeles, Universal Studios theme parks, NBC broadcast network, television stations, Spanish-language Telemundo and such cable channels as USA Network, Bravo, E!, Syfy, MSNBC, CNBC and the Golf Channel.

NBCUniversal’s revenue last year increased 11%, to $31.6 billion. Operating cash flow grew 13.8%, to $7.2 billion.

“When we bought [NBCUniversal] we were making a little less than $3.5 billion” in annual operating cash flow, Burke told analysts Thursday while discussing Comcast earnings. “This year, we’re going to be somewhere [around] $8.4 billion.”

Burke’s pay package included $2.8 million in base salary, $5.3 million in stock awards, $15.4 million in option awards, including the signing bonus, $8.6 million in deferred compensation, $9.9 million in cash compensation and $4 million in other perks, including contributions to his pension plan and travel expenses. The company said about 80% of his compensation was tied to performance incentives.

His boss, Roberts, 57, collected a compensation package in 2016 of nearly $33 million. That represented a 9% decline from 2015 as the value of Roberts’ pension and deferred compensation plan contracted a bit.

Roberts’ base salary is $3 million. In 2016 he received $5.3 million in stock, $5.3 million in options, $10.7 million in cash compensation, $4.3 million in deferred compensation and another $4.3 million in other compensation.

Handsome executive compensation packages are increasingly under scrutiny as media companies, including NBCUniversal, try to wrangle a new contract with the Writers Guild of America to avoid a devastating strike.

The guild has pointed to the corporate largesse as evidence the entertainment companies are flush with cash and should better compensate their writers, who it says are key to companies’ success.

For example, CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves was awarded a $69.6 million pay package in 2016. Compensation for the head of AMC Networks, Josh Sapan, weighed in at $30.5 million. And the chairman and chief executive of Charter Communications, Thomas Rutledge, received $98.5 million.

Charter bought Time Warner Cable last year and changed the name of its Internet and TV service to Spectrum.

“These people are making enormous amounts of money no matter how successful they are,” said Jeffry Powell, chief executive of Global Governance Software, which provides software tools for corporate boards and executives. “Once you get to a certain level, you’re in the club, and then there is little opposition internally for these executives to continue getting this enormous pay.”

Time Warner Inc. also released compensation details Friday for its top executives. The New York media company’s chairman and chief executive, Jeffrey Bewkes, was provided with compensation valued at $32.6 million, a 2% increase over the previous year.

Time Warner boasts such prominent cable television channels as HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network as well as the Warner Bros. television and film studio, which is the largest in Burbank.

Bewkes’ compensation included $2 million in base salary, $7.8 million in stock awards, nearly $8 million in options and $14.7 million in cash contributions.

Bewkes last year engineered the sale of Time Warner to AT&T for $85.4 billion. AT&T is in the process of trying to persuade regulators to approve the deal, which the Dallas phone company hopes to close by the end of this year.

Bewkes, 64, is expected to stay on for a few months to help with the transition to new leadership. Time Warner shares closed down nearly 1%, or 63 cents, to $99.27.

Comcast shares closed down 1.4%, or 51 cents, to $36.01.

meg.james@latimes.com

@MegJamesLAT

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