'Dark Knight' can't save 800 WB jobs

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Warner Bros. said Tuesday that it will eliminate 800 jobs — including 300 to be outsourced — in a series of moves executives blamed on shifting economics and the recession.

About 300 layoffs will be made during the next few weeks, and 200 open positions will not be filled, officials said. Pink slips will fly as high as the exec vp level, with virtually every department touched, corporate spokeswoman Sue Fleishman said.

"Every division is affected and none is immune — television, home entertainment, theatrical, corporate — all of our divisions, worldwide," she said.

The outsourcing component of the plan will affect info services and accounts-payable staff most directly. Overall, the job eliminations represent 10% of Warners' 8,000-position worldwide work force.

"We are very sad to announce that based on the global economic situation and current business forecasts, the studio will have to make staff reductions in the coming weeks in order to control costs," Warners co-toppers Barry Meyer and Alan Horn said in a letter sent to employees and distributed to the media. "This was a very difficult decision to make and one that was not made easily."

The Warners execs attributed the cuts to a "changing entertainment business landscape, shifting consumer demand and the overall state of the economy."

Fleishman said the studio wouldn't disclose its calculation on cost savings. One financial analyst estimate said Warners could reap savings of about $120 million from the moves.

"The savings are real," said Steven Birenberg of Illinois-based Northlake Capital Management.

Birenberg added that "800 layoffs will mean little to the Time Warner stock price (but) are a signal that business is really bad."

Meyer and Horn acknowledged that the layoffs follow a particularly lucrative year for Warners, which topped the theatrical market share rankings thanks to "The Dark Knight."

"Despite the fact that the company performed solidly in 2008, this decision reflects changes necessary for stability and growth going forward," the execs said.

The Warners moves follow announcements of layoffs and other cost-cutting at NBC Universal and Paramount. Other studios reportedly are reviewing similar moves.

The studio cutbacks also come on the heels of layoffs at other Time Warner divisions, including hundreds announced in the fourth quarter at publishing and corporate units, while the AOL online division has been shedding jobs for years. No cuts have hit the conglomerate's Turner Broadcasting cable TV unit, which has weathered industrywide advertising downturns in relatively better shape than some other networks.

Paul Bond in Los Angeles and Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.
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