Layoffs loom at NBC Uni

Part of broad 'TV 2.0' realignment

Employees at NBC Universal Television Group are bracing for the news of extensive staff reductions across different divisions that are expected to be discussed in a companywide meeting scheduled for today, multiple sources said.

The long-anticipated layoffs, which could number into the hundreds, come as the budget-conscious TV unit reorients itself for the digital age under the top-to-bottom "TV 2.0" operations overhaul mandate laid down by NBC Uni TV Group president and CEO Jeff Zucker. A town hall meeting is expected to be convened today by Zucker in New York, where news of the restructuring will be explained. Sources cautioned that the cuts are not expected to be implemented today but rather that there will be a discussion of the approach the company intends to take over the long term. Reps for NBC Uni TV Group declined comment late Wednesday.

The NBC News operation is said to be eyed for significant reductions as NBC Uni moves toward centralizing newsgathering and production operations throughout the company. MSNBC operations in Secaucus, N.J., will be moved to NBC News' headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, sources said. Some of MSNBC's technical operations could be moved to CNBC's headquarters, which is about 15 miles north of Secaucus in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Also located in Secaucus is Weather Plus, the joint venture between NBC and its affiliates, providing a digital competitor to the Weather Channel, and NBC's national and international news desks. The move would reunite the news desks with the rest of the NBC News operation at 30 Rockefeller Center.

Some layoffs also are expected to affect NBC's entertainment division, which could face a reorganization in an effort to realign its programming and production operations to be more attuned to producing a wider range of content for platforms beyond the NBC broadcast network and cable outlets including USA Network, Sci Fi Channel and Bravo.

While parent company General Electric signaled last week that NBC Uni will report a profit increase during the fourth quarter, the division reported a 10% decline in third-quarter earnings. NBC has been mired in fourth place among the broadcast networks for the past two years in key demographics, though it has perked up one month into the new TV season, with primetime ratings up 9% in the 18-49 demographic. The NBC broadcast network claims the sleeper hit of the season so far in the rookie drama "Heroes," which has performed well for the network on Monday nights.

Two other units likely to face significant cuts are Telemundo, the Spanish-language network NBC acquired in 2001, and NBC News Channel, the Charlotte, N.C.-based unit of NBC News managed under a cooperative agreement with NBC affiliates. The branch produces hundreds of news stories each day to NBC's local stations, cable channels, foreign broadcasters and other news organizations. There also could be consolidation of news bureaus nationwide.

NBC has been in belt-tightening mode for at least a year, cutting costs as is the fiscal style of GE under its famed Sigma Six strategy (HR 8/16/05).

The cuts might be the steepest that NBC has experienced since 2001, when the company shed about 560 jobs, or 10% of its work force. NBC completed its merger with Universal Studios in 2004.

Cynthia Littleton reported from Los Angeles; Paul J. Gough reported from New York. Nellie Andreeva and Andrew Wallenstein in Los Angeles contributed to this report.