Denver -- Comcast Corp.'s acquisition of MediaOne
Group Inc. means another hit to cable's capital city here, which was already reeling
from a case of consolidation fever.
With Comcast president Brian Roberts conceding that about 5
percent of the combined companies' 34,000 employees, or 1,700 workers, are likely to
be let go, speculation last week centered on how many of MediaOne's corporate
staffers here face furloughs over the next 18 months.
"It's a short answer: We don't know,"
MediaOne spokesman Steve Lang said. "We haven't done the work yet."
The numbers, however, don't look good for MediaOne.
Sources indicated that with 1,100 workers in Colorado, compared with just 200 corporate
employees at Comcast's Philadelphia headquarters, MediaOne's work force will be
under the microscope.
Moreover, unlike most cable mergers, where field-level
workers are spared in order to maintain continuity at the acquired systems, layoffs among
MediaOne employees may not be limited to Denver.
Sources said MediaOne had been centralizing its operations
in Colorado, but it had not yet eliminated redundant positions in the field. As a result,
the merged companies will be taking a hard look at duplicative staffing in regions with
contiguous cable operations.
"You've got to ask yourself: How many regional
management teams do you need in the Northeast?" Lang said.
Comcast reportedly believes that it can cut overhead by up
to $375 million by end-of-year 2000, with $250 million coming at the corporate level and
$125 million trimmed from the regional ranks.
"I think that you can read between the lines," SG
Cowen Securities Corp. analyst Gary Farber said. "Obviously, there's a lot of
overlap at the corporate and system level."
Meanwhile, details of the severance packages to be offered
to MediaOne employees began circulating last week.
Managers and employees below them will receive nine months
of salary and health benefits, while directors and above will receive one year's
worth of pay and medical benefits.
If history is any indicator, a lot of those packages will
be doled out locally.
At Jones Intercable Inc., for example, some 200 corporate
employees out of the MSO's work force of 300 have left or been laid off since Comcast
announced that it was acquiring a controlling interest in the Englewood, Colo.-based MSO.
The largest number of layoffs came in October, when some 100 corporate workers were let
Of the remaining 100 employees, only about 15 will stay on
to help run the Jones systems, sources said.
All key Jones executives have been operating under a
special arrangement awarding them bonuses for staying with the company for 90 days after
the Comcast deal closes next month, but even that has changed.
"As it turns out, they're not going to need us,
and they're waiving the 90 days," one Jones insider said. "So, we're
out of here."
In addition to Jones, Denver is losing PrimeStar Inc.,
which moved its headquarters to Denver about a year ago, as it is in the process of being
acquired by DirecTV Inc.; and FrontierVision Partners L.P., an MSO that is being acquired
by Adelphia Communications Corp.
And, of course, AT&T Corp. of Basking Ridge, N.J.,
recently closed its $55 billion purchase of Tele-Communications Inc.
Ironically, the AT&T-TCI merger may end up having a
minimal impact on Denver. With the exception of 10 employees who were laid off in the
treasury department, some 500 former TCI employees are expected to make the move to
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services' new Englewood headquarters April 9,
spokeswoman Katina Vlahadamis said.
"I don't anticipate any significant [work-force]
reductions," Vlahadamis added. As proof, she said, the company will continue to lease
space at its former headquarters, which will house an undetermined number of former
Western TCI workers, along with former TCI employees involved in AT&T's upcoming
10-city trial of telephone-over-cable service.