Perking things up at Cablevision __»

We’ve always been fond of the term “perk,” meaning any of the many extras that companies bestow upon their top execs, from estate planning advice to free rides on the corporate jet. It always sounds so cheerful and innocent, which is certainly how companies tend to portray the perks themselves, downplaying any importance they might have in the overall compensation scheme.

Then there’s Cablevision (CVC), the cable television giant known and loved (we’re using that term generously) by its millions of customers. At Cablevision, perks are big, as its latest proxy shows us. So big, in fact, that “All Other Compensation” for Chairman Charles F. Dolan is equivalent to two-thirds of his salary, or $1.1 million. For Vice-Chairman Hank J. Ratner, it’s 88%, or $1.45 million; and for CEO James L. Dolan, it’s nearly 62%, or $1.16 million.

Total perks bill last year: $5 .2 million for the top five executives.

As in most proxies, “All Other Compensation” means anything that’s not salary, bonus, cash incentive compensation, stock or options, or certain pension and deferred-compensation gains. At Cablevision it encompasses a panoply of goodies: special executive retirement- and savings-plan benefits ($287,337 for Charles Dolan), dividends on options and stock-appreciation rights ($665,200 each for Charles and James Dolan, and $1.1 million for Ratner) and then the perks that Cablevision actually labels as perquisites: Cars and drivers for four of the five executives listed in the proxy ($123,054 for Charles Dolan) and rides on the corporate aircraft ($271,698 for Chief Operating Officer Thomas Rutledge alone, at least some of which was for commuting by helicopter).

But wait! There’s more! They also got free cable — television, high-speed Internet and phone service — as well as “executive home security” and corporate travel-service assistance in arranging personal travel. How much could those be worth? Less than $10,000 for Charles Dolan, but as much as $112,164 for James Dolan (we hope he gets more interesting channels than we do).

Clearly, a lot of what gets lumped under “perks” or “all other” compensation at companies, Cablevision included, is the kind of thing people usually pay for themselves: extras or luxuries or everyday expenses that clearly aren’t business expenses for an employer, from jet-plane rides and travel agents to high-definition living-room entertainment and the family car. Call us old-fashioned, but we always thought that’s what those big salaries were for.

After all, these gentlemen aren’t exactly paid on a shoestring. Just for signing new employment agreements late last year and early this year, Ratner got shares worth $1.75 million; Rutledge got $7.75 million cash. And each man is getting $15 million toward their deferred compensation accounts.

Still, everyone knows $15 million isn’t what it used to be. That’s something to keep in mind the next time you pay your cable bill — or cash a dividend check from Cablevision.

Image source: El Gran Dee via Flickr