It has been a painful week for many in TV as job cuts bite, while some are exiting the original content business altogether. TBI casts an eye back on the key events and looks ahead for some sources of comfort.
By any measure, it has been a fairly rough five days for those working in the content business.
Disney execs talked up the “hard decisions” being made as its well-publicised ‘second wave’ of cuts landed this week, while Meta’s decision to cull Facebook Watch originals – including long-running Red Table Talk – highlights the shifting fortunes of content and those making it.
Meta, like its tech bro Amazon, has been in the process of dismantling its workforce for several months and these cuts have now fed through to content teams.
And even for those companies where content is a cornerstone of their offering, such as Disney, the layoffs have been deep, as US media businesses look to shore up their defences. But there are glimmers of light where decisions have had a more positive impact.
Disney’s dismal week
But let’s start at the beginning – there is no point honey coating the past few days for many members of staff at Disney. Bob Iger’s extraordinary regaining of the reins last year was followed by the CEO setting some serious saving targets in February – 7,000 jobs and a $3bn reduction in content spend.
Whilst there was an initial wave of exits last month, it is only now that we’re seeing what these cuts really look like. Jobs have been slashed across the Mouse House’s sprawling empire – albeit amounting to only 3.5% of all employees – but its streaming and production divisions have by no means escaped untouched.
ABC and Freeform execs were among the first reported casualties, while the scheduling team for Disney’s cablenets are to be combined and the Disney TV Studios marketing department is being dissolved. Divisions such as ABC and Hulu are now responsible for their own show marketing.
The Mouse House’s animation and unscripted teams have also been affected, along with ESPN. The company has also closed its first-run syndication operation, while yesterday its 20th Digital Studio division, which launched in 2008 as Fox Digital Studio, was hit. The unit had financed and produced shortform genre content and worked with up-and-coming filmmakers.
Cuts are also expected outside of the US, TBI understands, with the Mouse House’s biggest teams based out of London, but some cuts are also likely to be felt in its Asia operations. For Disney Entertainment co-chairmen Alan Bergman and Dana Walden, there was little positive news in their staff memo as they described the “hard decisions” being made.
‘Painful but necessary’
Disney was not alone in unveiling the results of its “hard decisions”. With most of the Mouse House exits confirmed by Thursday, it was the turn of Amazon, Fifth Season and Vice Media to unveil a raft of “painful but necessary” cuts to its staff and programming as the week neared its end.
Among the more eyebrowing moves from Vice was the cancellation of its flagship show Vice News Tonight, whose output had claimed numerous awards over recent years.
Nevertheless, around 100 staff members are to be let go, with recently installed co-CEO’s Bruce Dixon and Hozefa Lokhandwala pointing to “the current market conditions and business realities” facing the organisation, which is also looking for investment.
The duo emphasised that news remained “core” to the company’ operations, but said they would be “transforming” the division “to better withstand market realities and more closely align with how and where we see our audiences engaging with our content most.”
There was also a trim in numbers for Fifth Season, the Severance producer acquired by South Korea’s CJ ENM in 2021. It is cutting eight staff – around 2% of its workforce, for those wanting to compare.
And tech giant Amazon is also slashing around around 100 roles from its Amazon Studios and Prime Video operations, with unscripted among genres to be affected.
“Like many businesses, we have been closely monitoring economic conditions and our organisational needs and have made the decision to adjust resources,” said the retail giant, which reported Q1 profits of $3.17bn on Thursday. Shares were up 11% as the news sunk in.
And then there was Meta, which has shuttered its Facebook Watch originals division, with Mina Lefevre, head of development and programing, exiting.
The former MTV exec had joined Facebook in 2017 and worked on shows including Elizabeth Olsen-starring drama Sorry For Your Loss and Jada Pinkett Smith’s aforementioned Red Table Talk.
Those shows come from a time when tech giants were being seen as a potential revenue stream for producers. Since then, Snap has closed its originals unit and YouTube has scaled back its original ambitions considerably. And as with Amazon, Disney and others, Meta’s cuts to content are part of far broader moves across their overall businesses as they prepare for leaner times.
Yet there have been a few rays of sunshine landing on locations outside of the US, mainly thanks to steady-as-she goes Netflix.
The streamer has little choice but to focus on content, but to its credit it has already committed to spending $17bn this year and next, prompting sighs of relief from producers around the world. And we’re also seeing a few signs of where its bets are being placed – much of it outside of the US.
Netflix UK chief Anne Mensah said earlier this week that the streamer will have spent around $6bn in the country from 2020 to the end of 2023, “an increase of nearly 50% on what we originally anticipated.”
Three new UK scripted series were revealed at the same London event, joining long-running shows such as The Crown and Sex Education. And the news even caught the attention of UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, who said the $6bn spend demonstrated “the sheer strength of our TV and film industry as the largest in Europe.”
Indeed, Netflix was evidently on something of a power play this week, with its co-CEO Ted Sarandos using a meeting with South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol to confirm that it had also earmarked $2.5bn for South Korean content over the next four years, doubling what had been spent since 2016.
President Yoon said that the Netflix investment was a “great opportunity” for South Korean content creators. “We sincerely welcome Netflix’s exceptional investment decision,” he added, underlining the contrasting fortunes currently at play.