WGA blasts studio executive pay in message to Comcast, Netflix shareholders

 Striking Writers Guild of America workers picket outside Netflix
Striking Writers Guild of America workers picket outside Netflix’s headquarters in Hollywood.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

The Writers Guild of America is urging Comcast and Netflix shareholders to vote against executive pay plans during the companies’ upcoming annual meetings as lofty salaries and stock awards become a major talking point for striking Hollywood scribes.

WGA West President Meredith Stiehm wrote in a pair of Tuesday letters to the firms’ investors that they should oppose the companies’ executive compensation plans amid the writers’ strike, which is now in its fifth week.

Such “say on pay” votes are nonbinding but allow investors to express their approval or disapproval of executive compensation levels and structures for determining remuneration. The anticipated votes come as writers are fighting for better pay and conditions.

Stiehm argued that the pay packages are creating risks for investors. Comcast, the owner of NBCUniversal, has asked its shareholders to sanction $130 million in executive compensation, including the pay package for Chief Executive Brian Roberts, for 2022 on June 7.

“Shareholders should send a message to Comcast that if the company could afford to spend $130 million on executive compensation last year, it can afford to pay the estimated $34 million per year that writers are asking for in contract improvements and put an end to this disruptive strike,” Stiehm wrote to Comcast stockholders in one of the letters, which were viewed by The Times.

Stiehm said that Netflix, the Los Gatos-based streaming platform, is looking to spend $166 million on executive compensation, while it would cost the company $68 million a year to end the strike by satisfying the WGA’s demands.

Netflix declined to comment, and Comcast did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios in labor negotiations, also did not respond.


A studio executive with knowledge of the negotiations previously told The Times: “As the Writers Guild well knows, compensation of media company CEOs — and that of nearly all CEOs — is determined by market forces, in the same way that compensation for the guild’s top-market writers and showrunners is determined.”

A Times survey tallies the paydays for the heads of Warner Bros. Discovery, Netflix and more. The issue has become a hot topic on picket lines during the writers’ strike.

June 2, 2023

In a non-binding vote on Thursday, Netflix shareholders rejected the proposed pay plan for Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos and other executives.

The union has been ratcheting up pressure on companies to come back to the negotiating table to improve pay, residuals and other conditions for writers after contract talks ended May 1 without resolution.

Thousands of writers across the country have been picketing studio headquarters, disrupting live productions and targeting the market for advertising at New York’s upfronts this month.

The Times analyzed executive compensation at 10 publicly held media and entertainment companies, finding that executive compensation climbed to $1.43 billion in 2021, up 50% from 2018, based on data compiled by research firm Equilar Inc.

Since then, total compensation has dropped, in part due to the volatility of the stock market and pressure from investors for the companies to become more profitable.

The union’s 11,500 writers have been on strike since May 2, following an impasse over new contract terms with the studio alliance.

The writers are seeking to increase their wages and argue that the rise of streaming has eroded the compensation they would typically expect from residuals — fees for retransmitting films and shows.

They also are looking to set minimums for the number of writers employed and for the amount of time they can be employed on shows. Additionally, they are looking to regulate the use of artificial intelligence.

While the two sides were able to agree on some proposals, the chasm between them remained large.

Since the strike, the writers have disrupted productions of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “Cobra Kai,” as well as NBCUniversal series “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: SVU,” according to Stiehm’s letters.

The shutdowns are among the tools the writers are using to put the squeeze on the studios that are trying to grow their streaming businesses.

For example, Comcast plans to start charging Xfinity users for its streaming platform Peacock next month, a plan that could be challenged by a lack of new shows due to the disruption of the content pipeline, Stiehm wrote.

The 2023 writers’ strike is over after the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reach a tentative deal.

Sept. 29, 2023


Netflix, for its part, is promoting its new ad-supported subscription tier, and a disruption to its releases could lessen the streamer’s ability to attract and retain subscribers, the writers said.

Over the years, proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis have criticized the structure of the streamer’s executive compensation program. Last year, Netflix received just 27% approval for its plan, one of the lowest ratings in 2022, according to Farient Advisors, an executive compensation and corporate governance consulting firm.

Netflix changed its program after discussions with shareholders, setting up a performance-based cash bonus system for its co-chief executive officers and capping their base salaries at $3 million, among other changes.