Disney-ABC TV to cut 400 jobs

Layoffs will reach across the board

The latest round of showbiz layoffs hit Disney-ABC Television Group on Thursday, as the division announced it would shed about 400 jobs.

The cuts, which eliminate about 4% of the TV group’s total workforce, will reach across the board in Disney-ABC TV group divisions and go high up the exec chain. The Mouse will cut about 200 staffers and eliminate another 200 empty posts that have already been frozen for months.

“After months of making hard decisions across our businesses to help us adjust to a weakening economy, we’re now faced with the harsh reality of having to eliminate jobs in some areas,” Disney-ABC TV Group prexy Anne Sweeney wrote in a memo sent to Mouse House TV staffers Thursday morning. “This was not an easy decision, nor one made lightly.”

Several high-ranking execs were let go, but all in not particularly high-profile areas like broadcast operations and engineering, insiders said.

ABC Studios’ Stage 9 digital arm was also hit, while ABC News laid off about 40 staffers and will not fill any of its 60 open positions.

The layoffs represent a comparatively small percentage of the ABC News staff, which totals about 1,300 people, but it is the second round of dismissals in less than a year. No on-air positions were cut in this round; sources said the cuts in the org’s workforce, built up over the course of the 2008 presidential campaign, won’t affect the editorial content.

The cuts come a week after Disney announced its long-rumored plans to combine its ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios operations under newly named ABC Entertainment Group prexy Steve McPherson. But Thursday’s move was unrelated to the network/studio merger.

“This was purely related to the bad economic times and solely to curb costs,” one insider said.

McPherson’s programming teams were largely untouched in Thursday’s layoffs. But McPherson is still examining how to operate the combined operation and is expected to make some changes as pilot season comes to a close.

Thursday’s Disney-ABC TV Group chops didn’t come as a complete surprise; when NBC and CBS made their trims last month, it was widely believed that Disney-ABC was waiting until after the holidays to dole out its downsizing.

That makes Fox the only Big 4 network to have avoided a round of layoffs in recent weeks. Early this month, Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly told reporters that the net had already made enough cuts in other areas and wouldn’t have to trim staff.

NBC Universal cut around 500 staffers — 3% of its workforce — in December and restructured its network exec team, eliminating several top positions. CBS also passed out pinkslips last month.

In October, ABC News prexy David Westin emailed a warning to his employees that the company was not “immune from the downturn” and should implement as many cost-saving measures as possible. Studios such as 20th Century Fox TV and ABC Studios have also implemented across-the-board budget cuts on series production.

In her Thursday memo, Sweeney called it “an extremely difficult day for everyone in our group.”

“Change is never easy and becomes even harder to embrace during times of turbulence and uncertainty,” Sweeney said.

(Sam Thielman in New York contributed to this report.)

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