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ABC News lays off small number of employees amid broader restructuring

(Image: ABC News/The Walt Disney Company, Graphic: The Desk)

The Walt Disney Company this week laid off a “significant” number of employees across its entertainment divisions as it seeks to re-organize the company’s operations around streaming platforms, according to reports.

The layoffs include a small number of employees at the company’s news division, which employs more than 1,400 staffers in several cities.

The reduction in headcount at ABC News is in the “low single-digits,” according to a trade publication, a move that a company executive said was “necessary” as Disney shifted its strategy away from traditional forms of media toward streaming.

Affected employees who received pink slips will be let go early next year, a memo sent to news staffers said on Thursday.

“These decisions are never made lightly,” James Goldston, the president of ABC News, said in a memo obtained by The Desk. “We’re parting ways with people we have worked with and who have made so many important contributions to ABC News. I’m deeply thankful for their years of service and tireless dedication to help our audience better understand the world.”

Goldston said he expected to reveal future plans for ABC News in the coming weeks.

“We’ll continue to invest in our flagship brands and programs, live breaking news, streaming content and our signature long form storytelling while building on the exceptional standards of journalism that distinguish ABC News,” Goldston wrote.

The staff reductions at ABC News comes amid a larger, company-wide effort that saw the departure of several key Disney television and film executives, including some at 20th Century, the studio arm that was acquired from Fox Corporation in 2019.

One executive, Dan Kupetz, was a fresh face at the company, joining 20th Century in January from CBS Television Studios. He was among several to be given a pink slip on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, Disney announced it would be closing Radio Disney, a family-friendly radio network geared toward children and pre-teens. Most Radio Disney stations have gone off-the-air over the last decade, with the company securing contracts to distribute the network on a handful of HD Radio sub-carriers and nationally on SiriusXM satellite  and streaming radio (Channel 79).

The network, along with a secondary one called Radio Disney Country, are expected to stop broadcasting completely early next year.

“The difficult decision to close these two radio networks coincided with Disney’s recently announced structural changes that call for Disney Branded Television to sharpen its focus on increasing production of kids’ and family content for Disney Plus and Disney Channels,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Executives said they weighed several factors, including new developments in streaming technology that provided “more personalized music choices than ever to a generation of young consumers,” in its decision to close down Radio Disney. The ongoing health pandemic, which has adversely impacted concerts and other music events, also played into the decision, a spokesperson said.

Three dozen employees, most full-time, will be impacted by the closure of the radio network. The closure comes on the year Radio Disney was set to celebrate its on-air 25th anniversary.

Late last month, executives said they expected to lay off around 32,000 employees by March 2021, with most of those positions being eliminated across its entertainment and theme park divisions.

The layoffs are necessary to curb steep financial losses during the pandemic: The same week Disney’s blockbuster streaming service Disney Plus turned one year old, executives revealed the company had suffered its second consecutive quarter loss — and that trend is unlikely to reverse anytime soon, they warned.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).