400 jobs cut at Disney-ABC TV

Five percent of company's payroll downsized

Disney-ABC Television Group on Thursday became the latest TV conglomerate to cut jobs, 400 across all divisions.

About 200 employees were laid off. Another 200 open positions that had been temporarily frozen will now be eliminated. Among the hardest-hit divisions were ABC News and fledging digital studio Stage 9, which will be folded into abc.com.

ABC News lost 35 to 37 jobs. Since it has already had cuts -- most recently in the fall -- the news division wasn't as hard hit this time around. There were layoffs at newsmagazines "Primetime" and "20/20" as well as the ABC News Now digital service and ABCNews.com. No top executives or on-air personnel were affected.

Overall, the job cuts represent about 5% of Disney-ABC TV Group's payroll.

The group's president Anne Sweeney made the announcement in an internal memo to the staff.

"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," she wrote. "But despite the challenges before us, I remain confident and optimistic about our future, because you really are the best team in the business."

The layoffs come a week after Sweeney announced the merger of ABC and ABC Studios into ABC Entertainment Group. No high-level executives from either division have been affected by the cuts as Stephen McPherson, the new group's president, continues to evaluate the synergies between the network and studio.

The pink slips also come days before Disney will face investors Tuesday with its earnings report for the 2008 fourth quarter.

Disney-ABC follows NBC Universal and Time Warner, which recently cut 10% of its workforce companywide, including at their TV divisions. CBS Corp. also eliminated several dozens positions at CBS and CBS Paramount TV. Of the TV layoffs so far, only those at NBC and CBS Par claimed prominent executives.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is rumored to be next to trim staffs, while News Corp. executives have stressed there are no job cuts planned at its TV divisions, including the Fox network.

Disney also made cuts Thursday outside its TV division in its Disney Interactive Media Group. Video game division Disney Interactive Studios eliminated 35 positions at Propaganda Games, as first reported on gaming blog Kotaku, and more layoffs are expected as a result of restructuring at other developers owned by the conglomerate. Disney Online, another division with DIMG, also cut an unspecified number of lower-level jobs said to be in the low double digits. "The elimination of existing positions that we communicated today was a necessary step that we had hoped to avoid," said Steve Wadsworth, president of DIMG in a memo to his staff.

Paul J. Gough in New York and Andrew Wallenstein in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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