Disney Mulls Layoffs, Citing A Need To Eliminate 'Redundancies'

Disney layoffs

By Ronald Grover

Walt Disney Co, which reported record earnings in November, started an internal cost-cutting review several weeks ago that may include layoffs at its studio and other units, three people with knowledge of the effort told Reuters.

Disney, whose empire spans TV, film, merchandise and theme parks, is exploring cutbacks in jobs no longer needed because of improvements in technology, one of the sources said.

It is also looking at redundant operations that could be eliminated after a string of major acquisitions over the past few years, said the source, who did not want to be identified because Disney has not disclosed the internal review.

Executives warned in November that the rising cost of sports rights and moribund sales of home videos will dampen growth.

"We are constantly looking at eliminating redundancies and creating greater efficiencies, especially with the rapid rise in new technology," said Disney spokeswoman Zenia Mucha.

In terms of profit margin, Disney's studio is the least profitable of the entertainment conglomerate's four major product divisions.

Its fifth division, the interactive unit that creates online games, lost $758 million over the last three years, according to the company's financial filings.

More: Fiscal Cliff Deal Cuts Average Workers' Paycheck By $1,000

Disney could trim jobs at both the studio and interactive divisions as well as its music arm, said Tony Wible, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott, who has a neutral rating on the company's stock.

The media company is in what CEO Bob Iger calls a "transition year" after spending on projects such as the "Cars Land" expansion at the Disneyland Resort in California and a new cruise ship that launched last year.

"We invested a lot of money in our theme parks and resorts business," Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo told a media conference in December. "We want to execute against delivering the returns that we've been promising all of you for the years that we've been making those investments. We really want to hunker down on it."

Staff cuts are not a certainty at this point, the person added, although the company has a history of streamlining operations through layoffs.

In 2011, the interactive group laid off about 200 people at its video games unit after what Disney executives said at the time was a shift away from console games to focus on online and mobile entertainment. In September, 50 employees at Disney Interactive were laid off in a restructuring of the money-losing unit, according to one of the sources.

The company also made cuts at its publishing unit last year, and cut workers at its studio in 2011.

"This is not necessarily a negative thing," said Michael Morris, an analyst with Davenport and Company who has a buy recommendation on the stock but was not aware of the review.

"It speaks to a fiscally responsible management."

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Studio Could Be Target

Walt Disney increased its earnings by 18 percent to $5.7 billion in its 2012 fiscal year that ended Sept. 29, on $42.3 billion in revenues.

The present review, headed by CFO Rasulo, has already identified areas to change in the company's travel policy, said one of the people. It is also looking at a hiring freeze rather than layoffs, said a second source.

Cuts are most likely at the studio, said two of the three people, where the strategy has changed to focus on fewer films and rely more on outside producers such as Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio, which finances its own films and pays Disney a fee to market and distribute them.

The film strategy shift began when Iger took over as CEO in late 2005. Under Iger, the company purchased "Toy Story" creator Pixar Animation and Marvel, which brought it characters such as "Thor" and "Iron Man" that featured in this summer's blockbuster hit "The Avengers."

Disney completed a $4.06 billion acquisition of "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' Lucasfilm in December, and has said that it will begin producing new installments of the lucrative franchise in 2015, and make a film every two to three years.

The studio's 12.3 percent profit margin in 2012 was the lowest of Disney's four major operating units. The interactive unit lost $216 million last year.

Shares in the company gained 1.9 percent to close Friday at $52.19.

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While there are no doubt advancements in technology-the Imagineers have always been on the cutting edge, the untold story here is that Disney is losing money and prestige, primarily because ABC is bleeding Disney out slowly but surely due to their programming choices. Millions of people are boycotting ABC, primarily due to the decisions to cancel both All My Children and One Life To Live. Revenue is Revenue, no matter where it comes from...

January 10 2013 at 10:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe if they hadn't canceled long-time, much loved soap operas that initiated the biggest boycott in tv history, they may not be doing so bad now. Prospect Park pulls this off and I wouldn't be surprised if they started doing very well. It probably didn't help Disney that most cable carriers pulled Soapnet off the airwaves and replaced it with Disney Jr. "Hello Disney/ABC, we like to watch reruns of our shows, daily recaps in the evening and reruns of shows like Beverly Hills 90210!" Advertisers who put ads on Soapnet are just wasting there money since almost no one sees the channel in their line-up anymore!!!

January 09 2013 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why does this article only discuss in detail the 200 lay-offs in 2011 from their abysmally & consistently unprofitable interactive division, when Disney put 4-5 times as many employees out of work in 2011-2012 in their media broadcasting division by canceling their iconic soaps "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," not to mention the layoffs in media who covered these soaps, including the complete shuttering of the magazine "Soap Opera Weekly" as a result of Disney's cutbacks? This is not Obamacare. This is Disney greed, and it is not new. It's just that this article doesn't mention it. Their executives, led by Bob Iger, are not experiencing cutbacks in their compensation.

January 09 2013 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
In My Opinion Only

Disney won't say it; unspoken part of obamacare and fiscial cliff frustration, they know next year's revenue will go downhill due to $1,000.00 to $4,000 more taxes on familes in 2013 and they won't be coming back with cash at hand like they used to.

January 09 2013 at 6:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let's not forget about the 1,000 + cast and crew of both All My Children and One Life To Live who lost their jobs due to ABC/Disney's greed. Looks like that was a bigger bite than any of those ABC/Disney exec's can "Chew". Soap fans will never forget and they will continue to see a decline in their prime time ratings as daytime fans continue to boycott all but General Hospital on the alphabet network.

January 09 2013 at 1:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Disney stock is in sieve mode . Yet Robert Iger packs on a nice 25 + million dollar bonus annualy

January 08 2013 at 9:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Welcome to the unintended affects of Obamacare, more and more employers are either cutting employees hours or just laying them off to avoid the penalty for not providing healthcare!

January 08 2013 at 7:51 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I have a nephew who knows how this goes. He had worked at Disney for many years and quit when the company asked him to fire people on someone else's behalf. I think that's what you call a hatchet man. >:(

January 08 2013 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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