Stock prices are on the uptick. Ad revenue is trickling back. The bloodstains on the boardroom floors are starting to blot dry. In other words, less unhappy days are here again -- a modest, jobless recovery seems somewhat plausible.
Given the last couple of years, that's welcome news to the beleaguered movers and shakers on this list. After all the consolidation and vertical integration, they can get back to doing what they do best: battling each other for global media domination. EW takes stock of entertainment's titans with a pound-for-pound (or, rather, dollar-for-dollar) analysis.
SUMNER M. REDSTONE, 80, CHAIRMAN & CEO; MEL KARMAZIN, 60, PRESIDENT & COO The company's two top execs finally figured out how to play nice: Redstone now spends more time on the West Coast, Karmazin stays East. The geographical divide seems to be paying off for the company (not to mention Redstone and Karmazin, who each pocketed $16.5 million bonuses last year). CBS finally pushed past NBC in overall viewers, bolstering ratings and lowering demographics with shows like Survivor, the CSIs, and Everybody Loves Raymond. And Viacom added full ownership of Comedy Central to its cable stable (joining MTV, BET, and Nickelodeon), now reaching 26 percent of U.S. TV viewers. Paramount has had a rough year (was another Tomb Raider really necessary?), but the studio's risk-light approach is fine with tightfisted Redstone. The only snag of the year? Spike Lee briefly mucking up TNN's name change to Spike TV.
RUPERT MURDOCH, 72, CHAIRMAN & CHIEF EXECUTIVE; PETER CHERNIN, 52, PRESIDENT & COO The media may love to hate Murdoch (at least the media not controlled by him), but his empire continues to hum and grow: The company's once-sagging stock price was up 50 percent over the past year; his $6.6 billion deal for a 34 percent stake in DirecTV -- adding a satellite distribution system to the empire -- is expected to clear federal regulators by year's end; Fox TV finally won its first two sweeps in the key 18 -- 49 demo on the strength of American Idol, 24, and Joe Millionaire; Roger Ailes continues to build Fox News Channel's audience; and the movie division pumps cash into the coffers with innovative strategies like the single-day worldwide release of X-Men 2. Murdoch's one blind spot: a perceived tendency toward promoting his kids before they're battle-tested.
RICHARD PARSONS, 55, CHAIRMAN & CEO; DON LOGAN, 59, CHAIRMAN OF THE MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS GROUP; JEFF BEWKES, 51, CHAIRMAN OF THE ENTERTAINMENT & NETWORKS GROUP Though shocking numbers still jump off the ledger -- a $100 billion loss last year, $24 billion in debt -- the company (which owns Time Inc., EW's parent) is primarily healthy. Parsons spends a lot of time cleaning up messes he didn't make (such as the SEC's claim that some of the $400 million received from Bertelsmann in the sale of AOL Europe was misallocated) and selling off whatever others will buy (like that DVD-and CD-pressing business he unloaded for $1.05 billion this year). Movies and TV (overseen by Bewkes) delivered big-time: HBO and the Warner Bros. TV studio are tops in their field, and the movie division thrives on cash-cow franchises Harry Potter, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings. But music and book publishing remain sluggish. As for AOL, you may have noticed it's no longer advertised in the company's name. That might have something to do with declining numbers: Currently there are 25.3 million subscribers in the U.S., but that's an ever-shrinking number.