Viacom struggles, but top execs make tons of money

sumner redstone viacom split
The 92-year old Viacom founder Sumner Redstone earned $125 million from the company in 6 years.

Viacom shareholders have fared poorly in recent years. But the three executives at the top of the company are in great shape.

Sumner Redstone, the 92-year old founder of the company, and the company's next two top executives together have together received $603 million in compensation from Viacom during the last six years, according to company filings.

Redstone finally gave up his executive chairman title on Thursday, when the board tapped CEO Philippe Dauman to assume that post in addition to his CEO title. The third executive is COO Thomas Dooley.

Redstone alone earned nearly $125 million from Viacom (VIA) during those six years, and another $140 million from CBS, where he also served as executive chairman, from 2010 to 2014. Last year's CBS (CBS) pay has yet to be disclosed. Redstone gave up his CBS post on Wednesday.

Redstone's mental competence has been challenged in court recently by an ex-girlfriend. The court even ordered him to undergo a mental health exam. Viacom and CBS also face a suit by angry shareholders who allege that executives of the two firms "put their personal loyalty to Mr. Redstone... well ahead of their loyalty and respective fiduciary duties they owe to Viacom and/or CBS and their respective shareholders."

Related: Philippe Dauman succeeds Sumner Redstone in Viacom board battle

Viacom (VIA), which owns cable networks Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV as well as movie studio Paramount, has had its shares tumble 45% in the last two years. Revenue has declined steadily since 2011. One activist investor has held up the pay packages for the top executives as key example of what's wrong with the company.

"Why [is there] such high pay given Viacom's under performance," asked investor Eric Jackson of SpringOwl Asset Management. "Is Dauman worth six times more than Netflix's Reed Hastings?" Hastings, the CEO of Netflix (NFLX), earned a total of $39 million in the five years from 2010 to 2014, the most recent pay data available.

Jackson points out that Dauman and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves both get significantly more pay than chiefs at other media conglomerates, including Disney (DIS) CEO Bob Iger, Fox (FOX) CEO Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner (TWX) CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, even though those companies are all significantly larger. Time Warner is CNN's parent company.

Related: Sumner Redstone ordered to undergo mental health exam

A company spokesman called the shareholder suit "without merit," but declined to answer any questions about executive pay.

Jackson and other shareholder critics have little chance changing Viacom's pay policy, since Redstone controls the overwhelming majority of voting shares at both Viacom and CBS.

But there could be a big shake up if Sumner's daughter Shari Redstone gets control of that stock when he passes away. Shari Redstone, who is vice chairman of the Viacom board, was the only board member Thursday to oppose Dauman being given the executive chairman position, a source close to the company told CNNMoney.

If Shari takes control of the company, it's entirely possible that she could try to remove Dauman or at the very least revisit his pay package.


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