Viacom restructuring results in layoffs at TV Land

More than 20 people lose their jobs at TV Land channel as Viacom looks to cut costs

Media company Viacom Inc. has begun restructuring its operations, resulting in layoffs in the company's advertising sales division and its TV Land cable channel.

At least 20 people on Thursday were let go at TV Land, according to three people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive personnel matters.

TV Land has long been a popular destination for classic TV shows, including "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Hogan's Heroes" and "The Brady Bunch." The channel segued into original programming and immediately scored with "Hot in Cleveland" with Betty White. But other efforts such as "Kirstie" and "Jennifer Falls" failed.

An unknown number of advertising sales executives also were cut as the company consolidated two units into a single sales force that will be run by Jeff Lucas. Ad sales for Viacom's BET channel will remain independent.

Lucas previously managed sales for MTV, VH-1, Comedy Central and Spike, but now he also will oversee a much larger group that handles commercial sales for Nickelodeon and other kids' channels.

Rival media companies, including 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal, previously folded their broadcast and cable ad sales units together, so Viacom is continuing that trend of consolidation.

Top Viacom executives warned of the downsizing more than a month ago, as the company contends with lower ratings and seismic shifts in viewing behavior. Viacom has been particularly challenged in the ratings because so many of its channels target younger viewers who increasingly get their entertainment from digital outlets like YouTube and Netflix.

Last month, Viacom collapsed its three largest cable TV groups into two divisions. The restructuring followed the resignation of longtime MTV chief Van Toffler, who is forming his own independent production company.

As part of the reorganization, Comedy Central chief Doug Herzog added MTV, VH-1 and the Logo channel to his portfolio. The head of Nickelodeon, Cyma Zarghami, assumed responsibility for the TV Land channel, which previously had been part of Herzog's group.

BET remains a separate division managed by Debra Lee.

"As we announced previously, Viacom is making changes in three of our domestic network groups, creating two new organizations," a Viacom spokesman said late Thursday. "Today’s changes are part of the process of realigning our resources to meet the new needs of these organizations.”

Several TV Land staff members who were cut had worked for the company for more than a decade. The cuts followed the resignation last month of Larry Jones, the longtime president of TV Land and a 27-year veteran of Viacom.

The cost-cutting is expected to result in layoffs throughout the company's various business units, which include MTV, Comedy Central, VH-1, BET, Nickelodeon and movie studio Paramount Pictures.

Viacom's layoffs are not expected to be as extensive as those imposed last fall at Time Warner Inc.  More than 2,500 people lost their jobs at Time Warner, with the Turner Broadcasting cable TV unit -- CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS and TNT -- suffering the most extensive cuts.

Because of its challenged ratings, Viacom also is considering write-downs in the value of some of its programming. Such a move could contribute to the overall cost savings that Viacom is hoping to achieve.

Viacom shares closed Thursday at $70.34. The stock has fallen more than 20% in the last year but has recently rebounded a bit.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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