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WBD to lay off 300 in New Zealand, close Newshub

The New Zealand studios of Warner Bros Discovery. (Photo via Google Street View)
The New Zealand studios of Warner Bros Discovery. (Photo via Google Street View)

Nearly 300 journalists and other workers at New Zealand’s television news program Newshub are set to lose their jobs over the next few months after parent company Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) decided to pull the plug on the operation.

The layoffs were announced during Newshub’s 6 p.m. broadcast on Thursday (1 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time), during which presenters at the program said they were devastated to learn about the operation’s impending closure.

“We’ve had cuts and survived cuts in the past, but to lose the whole news operation — an entity so entwined in the fabric of our society here in Aotearoa — it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Mike McRoberts, a news anchor on the program, said during the broadcast.

Newshub journalist Michael Morrah said the announcement came “completely out of the blue,” characterizing it as “utterly devastating” for him and his colleagues.

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“Many of us have worked together for decades,” Morrah said on the program. “Management says we’ll have an opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal, although most staff I’ve spoken to don’t believe that will make any difference.”

Newshub is the flagship news brand for New Zealand’s Three, a television network that WBD acquired from advertising and interactive media firm MediaWorks in 2020.

The program replaced “3 News” on Three in 2016, with its staff of journalists producing three different news programs throughout the day, including a three-hour morning news show and two evening programs.

Speaking with the New Zealand Herald newspaper, former television journalist Bill Ralston said he believed WBD would be large enough to support the operation, but “once you start chewing into losses of $100 million and then more and more on top of it, it becomes unsupportable.”

“It’s just a tragedy,” Ralston told the newspaper. “A couple hundred people out of a job — where do they go?”

Unlike in other parts of the world where television and streaming news is produced by many outlets, New Zealand’s television news output is primarily limited to just a handful of commercial television broadcasters.

Ralston said Newshub primarily competed with news broadcasts originating from Television New Zealand (TVNZ), the country’s main commercial television broadcaster. The competition made both brands stronger, and without Newshub, Ralston fears that TVNZ might become complacent in its news production.

“The media market in New Zealand just can’t absorb the number of people coming out of TV3,” Ralston said. “There will be more media failures over the coming 12 months, no doubt about it.”

James Gibbons, the President of WBD’s Asia-Pacific business, said shutting down Newshub was “the best way forward” as the company grapples with a slowdown in traditional television advertising dollars.

The same slowdown has afflicted WBD’s business in the United States and other parts of the world, and the company has sought to address those macroeconomic challenges by restructuring some of its businesses at home and abroad.

Last July, WBD’s top international television executive Robert Blair left the company after 25 years. In a memo circulated among employees in Europe and elsewhere, WBD International President Gerhard Zeiler said Blair’s departure was directly related to ongoing restructuring efforts in its international businesses.

“We unveiled a new organizational structure for WBD International, which we believed best positioned us for success at that time,” Zeiler wrote in the memo. “But we also acknowledged that in an ever-changing industry and market, we would need to continue to evolve in a thoughtful and strategic way, along with the climate around us.”

The restructuring plan started in 2022, with WBD executives hoping certain parts of the company would quickly bounce back. But that didn’t happen, Zeiler affirmed, noting Warner Bros was “at another inflection point.”

Several months later, WBD announced it would shutter a streaming service called GCN Plus, which it operated in partnership with Global Cycling Network. The move was intended to streamline WBD’s other streaming properties, including Discovery Plus and Eurosport Plus, executives said at the time.

The cuts abroad have not been enough to curb WBD’s deep financial losses over the past year. Earlier this month, WBD revealed it lost $400 million during 2023 on revenue of $10.284 billion across its various businesses, which include domestic and foreign television networks, film and television production studios, streaming services and content licensing.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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