Friday, January 30, 2009

Disney's ABC Television Group to cut 5% of workforce

By Meg James
Los Angeles Times

The latest media company to make cutbacks as advertising falls says it will eliminate 400 jobs by letting go 200 employees and leaving another 200 positions unfilled.

Walt Disney Co.'s ABC television division, pressured by a downturn in the economy that is depressing advertiser spending, said Thursday that it was trimming its workforce by 5%, becoming the latest media company to make cutbacks.

The Burbank-based television group said it would eliminate 400 jobs by letting go 200 employees and leaving another 200 positions unfilled. The cuts are to be spread across all of Disney's television operations, including the flagship ABC broadcast network, ABC News and the cable networks Disney Channel, ABC Family and SoapNet.

"Change is never easy and becomes even harder to embrace during times of turbulence and uncertainty," Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, said in an e-mail to staff members. "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's sports network ESPN said this week that it would shed about 200 jobs this year. The Bristol, Conn.-unit also is freezing the salaries of senior executives.

The layoffs come just two weeks after Disney disclosed that it awarded Chief Executive Robert Iger $30.6 million in compensation in 2008, an increase of 11% from 2007. The boost came despite a 5.5% drop in net income during the entertainment giant's last fiscal year as consumers reined in spending, reducing profit at its theme parks as well as its television stations and networks that rely on advertising. Disney's revenue climbed 7% to $37.8 billion.

Most Disney divisions are cutting back as the economy worsens. Last week, the company offered voluntary buyout packages to about 600 executives at its domestic theme park and resort divisions. Those executives have until Feb. 6 to decide whether to leave with severance or risk becoming part of a round of layoffs.

The number of employees let go at the Disney-ABC Television Group represent less than 3% of its nearly 7,000 workers, or 5% including the vacant positions. Last November, ABC asked its show producers to trim their budgets by 2% in a bid to reduce production costs.

On Thursday, ABC News lost 37 employees out of a staff of about 1,300. The cuts were made throughout the news division, hitting the political unit, news magazines, ABC News Now and other departments. No on-air talent was fired, but those let go included production assistants and some senior producers.

ABC News President David Westin had already been keeping a tight grip on spending, paring about 35 positions annually in recent years from his division. In October, he asked news executives to fly "one grade below what they're entitled to" and to "stay in 'B' level hotels."More cuts at ABC Entertainment are expected.

Last week, ABC merged its separate network and TV production operations into one unit under ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson, who now must integrate and reshape the staff that oversees the production of prime-time comedies and dramas.Media companies that depend on advertising have been slammed during the last six months.

Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Entertainment eliminated about 600 people this month, and the company's AOL unit said this week that it would cut an additional 700 jobs.

Radio giant Clear Channel Communications Inc. slashed 1,850 jobs.Last month.

Viacom Inc., which owns MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures, eliminated 850 positions.

NBC Universal cut several hundred jobs to save $500 million this year.

LA Times Staff writers Dawn C. Chmielewski and Matea Gold contributed to this report.


Anonymous said...

Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC TV Group sent out a company-wide e-mail notification yesterday regarding lay-offs.

Private meetings were held with most individuals involved. 200 people were involved nationwide at just the ABC unit. This represents approximately 5% of management.

Last fall approximately 16 additional lower managers were laid off from the news dept. nationwide.

No union employees were affected yesterday. More announcements are expected, possibly today, since it is the last Friday of the month, the electoral cycle concluded with the inauguration, and the IBM productivity report has not yet been implemented.
I know and work with several of the people who have been laid-off. They are both recent hires and people of very long standing at the Network. Sports tech. managers are eliminated. There is essentially a miniscule ABC Sports department now. ESPN now does sports and ABC buys the broadcast rights from them.

No persons in the Network Origination Group (distribution responsibilities, where I do 80% of my work) were affected. Yet.
I expect that to happen soon. Perhaps today.

Everyone has their fingers crossed that the axe will not swing on their position.

Earlier this month Disney offered buyouts to 600 management people at the theme park unit.


Anonymous said...

Lew Comments: My take on this is: Many of us who took refuge in the freelance boom of the 1980's, when the networks started outsourcing sports and other discontinuous program & work cycles.

It seemed more lucrative--and more fun--to be self employed on projects of one's own choosing, at one's own discretion:

I did better--and had a better and more autonomous lifestyle--covering baseball games at Yankee & Shea stadium, than playing back commercials at 2 AM from the basement of West 66th Street, under dour faced middle managers, when I detest being told what to do, and how to do it. (Thanks, but no thanks.)

The way things sound, the joke may now be on me and the other freelancers. We really have no job security whatsoever. Even in the most heavily unionized parts of the industry, employers owe us nothing.

Networks such as Madison Square Garden likely have rarely hired ANY staff technicians since the mid 1980's, instead building up a large group of daily hire freelancers.

This temporary work force really has not much better standing than migrant farm workers.

Lew Comenetz-Broadcast Engineer since 1980, 206-310-8337

Anonymous said...

The freelance director who works on Nightline said the freelance market is terrible. Awful.

Anonymous said...

We all know Disney is a lousy company to work for.

I am amazed at all these layoffs though.

You know, these people make lowball offers to see if there are any takers: I had a high budget Local 600 signator try and get me to work in L.A. as a "Local" next week. I held out, and got the whole "Package": Travel days, per diem, rental car (valet service), a Beverly Hills hotel. Everything.

I had a company in Seattle that paid me $500/10 for a cushy, white glove studio gig at Microsoft last year, turn around & want to pay me "Two half days @ $450 total"
($225 per "half"[not] day!) as an EIC of a 3 camera switched fiber flypack.

I said: "Listen. This makes no sense. you paid me $500/10 last time to be a white glove studio "shader". Now you want me to be an EIC of a switched flypack for $225/day when I know I'll be there on the set day until midnight? What are you, nuts? EIC work bottoms out at about $600/day. Its highly skilled, and very stressful"

Its a game. They're just seeing who bites.