Net Combos Lead to Cuts, Now or Later

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It wasn’t all smiles, karaoke and network launches on the National Show floor last week, as consolidation among the owners of programming services continues to create jobs in some places and eliminate them in others.

TechTV last Thursday informed its 285 employees about pending layoffs as part of the network’s $300 million sale to G4. And speculation continues about potential pink slips at USA Network, after NBC completes its acquisition of USA’s parent company, Vivendi Universal Entertainment.

Some jobs might also be lost at ESPN after some affiliate-sales staffs are combined. And there was talk on the show floor that G4 owner Comcast Corp. is moving toward combining affiliate staffs for its owned national networks, which would lead to job cuts.

TechTV employees were given 60 days notice last week about pending layoffs in anticipation of the merger’s close. The deal is expected to be finalized next week, sources close to the network (which had a display booth on the show floor) said.

TechTV executives would not comment at press time.

G4 will absorb some staffers from TechTV. Spokesman David Shane said 80 new positions will be created within the Los Angeles-based company.

He said jobs would be spread widely throughout various departments — although programming will get a significant boost — and that “employees of TechTV will have the opportunity to apply for those new jobs.”

G4’s distribution will increase dramatically, rising from 15 million to a combined 44 million cable and satellite homes. That could open up affiliate and marketing positions.

The affiliate-sales side of the cable industry is also expected to be shaken up soon — possibly on two fronts.

Industry speculation continued in New Orleans last week over how many would be let go at USA Network after NBC completes the VUE acquisition.

USA’s existing affiliate-sales people have “been lame ducks for the past six months,” as one operator put it. Some of them are still interviewing with NBC Cable president David Zaslav, with hopes of being kept on board. Doug Holloway, USA’s president of distribution, is expected to leave, but is reportedly telling people he wants to stay working within the cable industry.

On USA’s ad-sales side, predictions are that chief Jeff Lucas will remain, as he’s an NBC alum: he was vice president of Olympic Games sales and marketing.

NBC Cable declined to comment last week on potential layoffs, as did USA on the futures of Holloway or Lucas.

Consolidation has also hit the ESPN affiliate team. The sports powerhouse, which shuttered its affiliate function in Los Angeles two years ago (programming and X Games executives are still located there), will close shop in Chicago by the end of the year.

An ESPN spokeswoman said the 14 staffers at that office have the option to make the trek east to the company’s headquarters.

“There will be no jobs lost. They are being offered the opportunity to relocate to Bristol [Conn.],” said an ESPN spokeswoman. “With the consolidation in the industry, it makes sense.”

The company’s 35-member affiliate team in Denver will remain intact in the Mile High City. “Most of the big MSOs are in Denver or on the East Coast,” the spokeswoman said.

The other show scuttlebutt was that Comcast plans to move ahead and finally consolidate and create one centralized affiliate-sales force for most of its cable networks, including G4/TechTV, Outdoor Life Network, The Golf Channel, E! Entertainment Television and possibly start-up TV One, although TV One (of which Comcast owns 50%) is managed by co-owner Radio One.

Currently, the Comcast networks — which shared a booth at the National Show — have their own individual affiliate sales forces, not a particularly efficient way to operate.

While Comcast said it doesn’t comment on rumors, spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said “As our content portfolio increases, we’re continually evaluating opportunities to improve performance and efficiency.”

While the mega-MSO has long discussed creating a single affiliate-sales team, it seems it might be ready to tackle that obstacle now that it’s finished digesting AT&T Broadband and isn’t buying The Walt Disney Co.

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