Jeff Ivers Leaving COO Post at Participant Media (EXCLUSIVE)

Participant Jeff Ivers
Courtesy of Participant Media

Jeff Ivers is stepping down as chief operating officer of Participant Media, the Beverly Hills-based entertainment company that is in the midst of a major organizational makeover.

Ivers departure comes 11 years after he joined founder Jeff Skoll as one of the first employees of Participant, the production outfit that weds film, television and Web content to campaigns for social action.

He becomes the second top executive to leave the company in a little more than three months, following the forced resignation of CEO Jim Berk, who had alienated many of his employees by hopscotching between strategies and injecting himself into the smallest details of day-to-day operations. A search for a new CEO continues, with Skoll serving as the interim head of the company.

Ivers, 63, did not describe his immediate plans, though in a statement that Participant issued Monday he called working at the company “a tremendous privilege” and added: “I’m now looking forward to the next stage of my career.” Skoll said he was “deeply grateful” to Ivers, noting the COO was crucial in shaping Participant “into the global media company it is today.”

But Skoll, a billionaire and former CEO of eBay, last year expressed impatience with the pace of his company’s expansion into television, digital and international markets. And some employees viewed Ivers’ exit as another step toward rebooting Participant. Some describe the COO as a micro-manager and obstructionist. One Participant insider said complaints about Ivers had been shared with McKinsey & Company analysts, who completed the first major phase of a strategic review of Participant last week.

Ivers had logged two decades in the entertainment industry by the time he joined Skoll in 2004. He became chief financial officer of Participant and the company’s frequent “Dr. No” – keeping spending in check even as Skoll mused about creating “the most important media company in the world in terms of impact.”

Trained as an accountant, Ivers became head of business affairs in 2005, then executive president of business affairs and mergers and acquisitions, before ascending to the COO post in 2009. He received producing credits on more than 20 films and was an executive producer on “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Oscar-winning documentary that spotlighted Al Gore’s concerns about climate change.

The COO negotiated Participant’s financial stake in more than 70 films, along with investments in several other media companies, including Summit Entertainment, Cineflix, the Audience and Evolution Media Partners. He helped cement the acquisition of the Documentary Channel and Halogen, which were combined in 2013 to launch Pivot, Participant’s TV channel.

The TV branch has struggled to gain traction with viewers and does not yet have enough of an audience to pursue a Nielsen rating. During a meeting with his top executives last year, Skoll’s frustration boiled over with the lack of progress at the company, including at Pivot and at his TakePart.com website.  “This thing is broken. It’s broken,” he said repeatedly.

Insiders said Skoll recently has grown more pleased with progress at Pivot, which has won several awards and a measure of critical acclaim for some of its programs. Though it is not yet Nielsen rated, the channel has continued to grow its audience, one company official said.

Variety was first to report about Skoll’s concerns and his plan to reboot the company, starting with the McKinsey review. The Participant founder also wants a new board of directors and other changes. Insiders said they believed the company might look for new partners for its Web and TV operations, or consider spinning them off. Participant has eyed a possible film alliance with DreamWorks.

Skoll said in an email to employees last week that he and Participant’s senior team still anticipate “aggressive growth.” Future changes, he said, will be discussed with employees in meetings over the next month.

Ivers started in Hollywood in 1983 as corporate controller of the MGM/UA Home Entertainment Group, which oversaw pay TV, home video and merchandising. He served as exec veep over the company worldwide TV and video distribution. Ivers also co-founded Triton Pictures, a theatrical distribution company, which handled releases such as “Brief History of Time” and “Hearts of Darkness.”

He served as COO of MPCA, an independent production company, beginning in 1994, and led the sale of the company to Orion Pictures in 1997, then worked in production and distribution at Orion.

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