21st Century Fox Looks to Cut $250 Million in Film, TV Staff

In an effort to cut costs and reorganize a large swath of its workforce, 21st Century Fox is looking to reduce staff overhead by $250 million in the coming 2017 fiscal year that begins in July. The media giant is initiating a voluntary buyout program for U.S. employees at the Fox Networks Group and 20th Century Fox film studio.

“As we position 21CF for the future, we want to ensure our organization remains agile and structured to fully capture the many opportunities ahead of us.  With this we are looking across our film and television businesses to transform certain functions and to reduce costs. As part of this process, which is in its early stages, today some colleagues from Fox Networks Group and 20th Century Fox will be offered a generous benefit package if they opt to voluntarily leave the company,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement.

Some employees were to receive buyout offer today asking for resignations by May 23, 2016. Fox did not specify a headcount target but at $250 million it would presumably be expected to cover hundreds of staffers, probably most of them senior-level. As news of the offers spread across the Century City lot, sources said the packages were indeed generous for longtime employees.

One source familiar with the company’s operations said the bulk of the staff reductions would likely come from the television unit, though Fox’s film studio would also absorb reductions, most likely from the home entertainment and distribution operations, as more customers get programs via the Web.

“The film side has been a mature business and fairly lean compared to other studios,” said the source, who declined to be named while discussing sensitive internal matters. “TV in general has been an expanding business, with international channels and cable. I think they are starting to hit the wall in terms of growth. You will see more of a major overhaul on that side.”

The reductions appeared to be timed to fall before Fox reports earnings on Feb. 8, with the insider saying that the conglomerate may fall short of projections.

The cost-cutting initiative came about after a structural review of Fox’s U.S. operations and a recognition that the TV and film industries are changing dramatically. Sources familiar with the situation said Fox Networks chairman/CEO Peter Rice has been studying better ways to deploy resources in people in the various network and studio units that fall under his purview. The Fox broadcast network in particular has been through a rocky road in the past few years of declining ratings and shifting viewing habits, yet the network’s organizational structure is little changed from decades past.

News of the buyouts came as the Fox network was celebrating the triumph of Sunday’s live three-hour telecast of musical “Grease Live.” The production was much-praised for its daring technical gamble and infectious enthusiasm, which brought a big demo ratings windfall and 12.2 million viewers.

In his memo to staffers, Rice noted the “Grease” success and the Fox network’s improvements with other new shows so far this season but said the reorg’s time had come.

“It is important, however, that we organize ourselves for tomorrow rather than resting on the laurels of today, and the best time to do that is when we are in a position of strength,” Rice wrote.

20th Century Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos also sent an email to employees, reassuring employees in the film division. “If we structure our organization for the media world ahead of us,” Gianopulos wrote, “we will continue to thrive and make 20th Century Fox a stronger and more agile company going forward.”

The two executives assured employees that all of the job reductions would be voluntary. But the insider said that, if the $250 million target is not reached, “there will be a Plan B. And that will be layoffs.”

James Rainey contributed to this story.

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