Friday, January 30, 2009

Disney/ABC TV Group cuts 400 positions

The Walt Disney Co.'s television division is cutting 400 jobs, or about 6 percent of the unit's work force, due to the slumping economy.

The cuts include 200 layoffs, while another 200 vacant positions will not be filled in a division that employs 6,500 to 7,000 people, said a Disney executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the number of job cuts had not been made public.

The job reductions, to be implemented in the coming months, were the latest announced at the family entertainment company, which is grappling with weak consumer sentiment and a declining advertising market.

Anne Sweeney, the president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, informed staff of the layoffs in a memo sent out Thursday.

"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," Sweeney wrote. "I realize this is an extremely difficult day for everyone in our group."

Her memo did not put a number on the job cuts.

The eliminated positions were at all levels and made across the group, which includes the ABC network, ABC Studios, and cable channels including Disney Channel, SOAPnet and ABC Family.

The announcement came a day after the top executive at ESPN, another Disney property, told employees that 200 jobs will be cut within a year, mostly from open unfilled positions, and that the unit will implement a freeze on hiring and executive pay raises.

ESPN chief George Bodenheimer told employees Wednesday that the economy was worsening, "and ESPN and our business partners — especially some of our major advertisers — are feeling the impact more acutely than at any point in our lifetime."

Thursday's move came after Burbank, California-based Disney said last week it would merge its ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios divisions. Sweeney said that reorganization was intended to "streamline the creative process."

ABC Studios had already sought cost cuts of about 2 percent from two dozen shows including "Desperate Housewives" in November after Disney reported losses at its broadcasting group had more than quadrupled from a year earlier.

Last week, Disney's parks division also offered voluntary buyout packages to about 600 executives and gave them until Feb. 6 to opt in.

Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said in November the company was seeking to pare costs across the company to keep pace with worsening economic conditions.

The company is set to report its earnings for the first quarter, which ended in December, on Tuesday. - AP

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