In a major companywide restructuring effort, Crown Media Holdings Inc. will drop 30 percent of its work force — including Lana Corbi, its U.S. president and CEO and head of Hallmark Channel.
But Crown executives said the restructuring is not a precursor to eventually selling the company.
Crown will eliminate 130 positions in a restructuring of the company's global businesses. It will decentralize its international operations — currently handled from four U.S.-based offices — by localizing programming, marketing and ad-sales responsibilities within Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. The company will also outsource its Latin America operations to a local distribution partner.
Overall, Crown plans to reduce operating costs by $25 million by first-quarter 2003, a decline stemming largely from decreased amortization and lower expenditures for overhead, satellite leasing, marketing and programming.
"The goal of the company is to get to breakeven as quickly as possible," said Crown president and CEO David Evans, who will take over day-to-day operations for Hallmark. "We're going to focus on the parts of the world we have the most potential to gain the greatest success as quickly as possible — the U.S. being No. 1."
Evans denied that Crown is preparing to sell Hallmark, formerly known as Odyssey Network, or that it's talking to potential investment partners, although he wouldn't rule out future strategic alliances.
"While it's difficult being a stand-alone channel — you don't have as much leverage as other big programmers — we've done very well over the last 12 months with the Hallmark brand," Evans said. "We will always look at potential strategic partnerships, but nothing serious is in the works and we're not on the market."
Published reports indicated that Liberty Media Corp. is interested in increasing its stake in Hallmark parent Crown. Liberty executives did not return calls by press time.
Under the watch of Corbi — one of cable's highest-ranking female African-Americans — Hallmark boosted its primetime ratings by 25 percent to a 0.5 from Oct. 1, 2001 to Sept. 29, 2002, according to a Turner Broadcasting System Inc. analysis of Nielsen Media Research ratings data.
Hallmark, whose strategy has increased its commitment to acquired series and original movies, is expected to allocate $80 million for programming in 2002 and $88 million next year, according to projections from Kagan World Media.
The network's distribution grew by more than 7 million subscribers to 47.5 million, according to Nielsen Media Research estimates provided by Discovery Networks U.S.
Corbi, who took Hallmark's reins last October, will remain in a "consultancy capacity" through the remainder of the year, to assist in the transition.