The New York Times Thinks Brian Roberts Is Overpaid

The New York Times‘s David Carr has trained his gimlet-eye on the compensation of megawatt media company CEOs, including Comcast’s Brian Roberts, who earned over $25 million in 2012. His point? Relative to the overall influence of their firms, media moguls are way overpaid.

Consider: the top 20 companies in the United States ranked by market capitalization include no media companies. But according to figures assembled for The New York Times…media companies employ seven of the top 20 highest paid chief executives.

Why the excessive compensation? In part because media companies like CBS and Discovery have “weak boards” and “super aggressives” CEOs who think of themselves like the movie and TV stars they rely upon. But there’s a deep-rooted structural element too, and this is where Comcast comes in.

The compensation experts I spoke with said that Viacom, CBS and News Corporation have closely held two-tiered stocks controlled by their chairmen, so they can pretty much do as they wish. But their practices inflate pay for the rest of the industry.

Carr did not mention Comcast, but Roberts’s company also has two-tiered stock. What that means is that Roberts, despite holding just a small fraction of the firm’s overall stock, has 1/3 of the voting power of the company. Most other shareholders’ votes count for practically nothing, in comparison. Put another way, Roberts has a lot of leverage over what he himself makes, and that creates “compensation contagion,” as Carr put it. [New York Times]