WB Network Cuts Jobs as It Faces Losses, Falling Ratings

Times Staff Writer

The ratings-starved WB television network gave pink slips Friday to nearly two dozen employees, bringing to about 40 the number of people at the network who have lost their jobs during the last month.

The layoffs come at an uncertain time for the 11-year-old Burbank-based network. The WB has said it will lose about $35 million this year. Its partners -- Time Warner Inc., which owns 78%, and Tribune Co., which owns the remaining 22% -- have not reached a long-term agreement to replace the deal expiring next fall.

In addition, the WB's ratings are down 12% this season compared with a year ago in its target demographic of viewers 18 to 34 years old.

WB executives said the layoffs were part of a broader effort to trim expenses for all of Warner Bros.' operations. Last month, Warner Bros. confirmed that it had eliminated about 300 jobs, in part because of slowing growth in DVD sales and a softening TV syndication market.

Executives said the WB action was not a commentary on the network's long-term prospects. Much of the job cuts came in marketing and the Kids' WB! children's programming unit.

The WB would not specify exactly how many jobs were lost. After the cuts, it is expected to employ 220 to 240 people.

In an e-mail to employees, WB Chairman Garth Ancier described the layoffs as "painful and heartbreaking."

"Some months ago, The WB -- like every other division of Warner Bros. -- was asked to do a top-to-bottom analysis of our business," Ancier wrote. "The objective, in our constantly changing media marketplace, was to attempt to harness the opportunities provided by new technologies and distribution platforms, while managing our costs."

Time Warner executives maintain that the WB remains strategically important because it provides an alternative outlet to networks owned by competitors for Warner Bros.-produced shows.

Chicago-based Tribune, owner of the Los Angeles Times, also has said it remains committed to the WB. The two companies this year agreed to a one-year contract extension that expires in September 2006.

The job cuts follow the disappointing launch of several new shows.

The WB spent millions of dollars promoting "Supernatural" and "Related," but neither has emerged as a hit. The drama "Just Legal" starring Don Johnson flopped.

To save costs, the WB last month trimmed its orders for episodes of established shows, including "What I Like About You" and "One Tree Hill."

Broadcast networks and TV stations face additional challenges as consumers turn to the Internet, iPods, video games and cable channels for their news and entertainment.

Advertisers this year shifted dollars from the networks to other media such as the Internet. Further clouding the outlook for TV is the increasing use of digital video recorders, which allow users to zip through commercials.

Separately, CBS executives on Friday confirmed that about 25 employees of its Spelling Television unit were being laid off. Spelling Television has two shows on the WB network, "Charmed" and "7th Heaven."

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