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Career Development Entertainment and Sports Law

Players On the Move

A look at moves among attorneys, law firms, companies and other players in entertainment law.


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Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the long-running children’s educational television series Sesame Street, has tapped deputy general counsel Valerie Mitchell Johnston to lead its legal department. Johnston will become general counsel and executive vice president of legal and business affairs on July 1, New York City-based Sesame Workshop announced. She will take over from Joseph Salvo, who is retiring after eight years with the organization. He earned $496,376 in compensation in fiscal year 2020-2021, according to the organization’s latest tax filing. This is Johnston’s second run with Sesame Workshop. After two years as an associate at Proskauer Rose, she joined the organization in 1997, starting as senior counsel and rising to vice president by 2009, when she departed to join HIT Entertainment as vice president of business and legal affairs. She left HIT in 2015 — four years after Mattel bought the owner of the Barney, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine franchises for $680 million — and joined the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as deputy general counsel. She came back to Sesame Workshop as deputy GC in 2019. Johnston will be reporting to CEO Steve Youngwood. Along with her promotion, Johnston will become board secretary. Sesame Workshop launched in 1968 and was known as the Children’s Television Workshop until a 2000 rebranding. Its eponymous show Sesame Street premiered in 1969 and had continued to produce new episodes that air on HBOMax and PBS. Sesame Street has been seen by children in more than 150 countries, including 30 Sesame Street international co-productions. Sesame Workshop’s primary revenue sources are foundations, corporations, government agencies and individuals. Sesame Workshop has about 1,200 employees, and its revenue for fiscal year 2020- 2021 was around $195 million, according to its latest tax filing — a precipitous drop from the previous year, when it brought in more than $246 million in revenue. Total compensation for Netflix’s chief legal officer David Hyman soared to $13.2 million in 2022, up from $10.2 million the prior year. The Los Gatos, CA-based company disclosed pay for top brass in a proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The primary components of Hyman’s pay was his $6 million salary and a stock option grant valued at $7.2 million. Options give executives the right to purchase shares in the future at the price on the date of the grant. Pay went up for all seven executives listed in the proxy, even though the company’s growth sputtered during the year and the stock lost more than half its value. Hyman has been Netflix’s top lawyer for more than two decades, joining the company in 2002 from Webvan, where he was general counsel for three years. Prior to that, he was an associate at Morrison & Foerster and Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn. Netflix employees get to decide the proportion of their pay that’s in cash and the proportion in stock options. So far, Netflix shares have risen 21.6% this year. Netflix rattled investors in the first half of last year by announcing that subscribers fell 200,000 in the first quarter and by nearly one million in the second quarter. The company has since reversed the trend, with subscribers running 4.9% higher than a year ago. Patrick Donnelly, the longtime general counsel of Sirius XM, saw his 2022 pay surge to $8.8 million, nearly triple what he earned a year earlier, thanks to millions of dollars in extra compensation he received in connection with agreeing in November to a new contract that runs through 2024. Pay for Donnelly and other top brass at the New York City-based media company was reported in the company’s proxy statement recently filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing says that in connection with his new contract, Donnelly received a stock grant valued at $1.2 million and a stock-option grant valued at $2.3 million. Those awards were included in the total compensation of the $8.8 million reported for Donnelly in the proxy. A year earlier, he received $3.1 million. On top of that, the new employment agreement awards Donnelly an additional stock award with a “target value” of $2.5 million, though the actual size will depend on the company’s operating results and stock performance this year and next. The new contract keeps his annual salary at $1.03 million, though it’s subject to possible increases by the board. Donnelly has been the company’s legal chief since 1998. In the proxy, the company praised his 2022 performance on numerous fronts, including “his role in supporting our acquisition of podcast assets, particularly his efforts to evaluate and manage the legal-related risks associated with such acquisitions.” Donnelly’s big payday comes less than a month after Sirius XM announced it would cut 475 employees, amounting to 8% of its workforce. Benjamin Jaffe has joined Pryor Cashman as a partner in the media and entertainment group and will serve as co-chair of its digital media practice. According to the firm: “Working across a broad range of digital media, emerging content, and entertainment projects with a particular focus in podcasting, music tech, advertising/strategic brand partnerships, digital video content, and blockchain-based content distribution, Ben’s clients frequently engage him as outside general counsel, where he handles a wide range of legal and business affairs matters.” The firm adds that Jaffe is “often recognized for his ability to identify and skillfully negotiate strategic opportunities and partnerships that facilitate growth, profitability, and market position, and for which there is often no existing market or relevant precedent. … Bringing particular depth in podcasting, Ben is an industry-leading attorney who regularly structures and negotiates first-in-class content acquisition and development deals, sales and distribution agreements, slate production and distribution partnerships, branded content production agreements, and talent partnership deals. He also frequently advises on complex intellectual property rights issues, including regarding the adaptation, development, and exploitation of derivative works and ancillary properties based on podcasts and vice versa.”

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