CBS Layoffs Shake Industry

The sudden early April slashing of dozens of jobs at CBS O&Os shook the industry and made folks wonder if this would spur copycat layoffs by other companies.

CBS News confirmed reports that it would cut a few staff (1 percent) from its massive workforce of some 1,200 employees. The larger cuts came at big-market stations: reportedly more than 30 at WBZ (Boston), 17 at WBBM (Chicago), 14 at KPIX (San Francisco), 12 at KYW (Philadelphia), 10 each at KDKA (Pittsburgh) and KOVR (Sacramento) and six at KCNC (Denver).

The layoffs highlighted the reality that 2008 may not be as lucrative as once thought—especially for networks not carrying the Olympics.

But a J.P. Morgan analyst said he doesn’t expect the CBS cost cuts to spur cuts throughout the industry.

“There’s a view that maybe they’re a little bloated on the stations side,” said analyst John Blackledge.

Indeed some of the cuts reportedly fell on big-name, big-income anchors and reporters. Tools that enable individual staffers to do more also helped lower the number of personnel needed.

“Advances in technology are a part of the equation.” said CBS News spokeswoman. And Tom Kane, chief executive of the CBS Television Stations group, told the Los Angeles Times that some layoffs could be attributed to investments in new technology, including $500 million over four years for new facilities, high-definition broadcast equipment and digital editing tools.

The New York Times reported that CBS and CNN were in negotiations for CBS to use some of CNN’s newsgathering resources, but a CBS spokeswoman denied the report and a CNN spokeswoman declined to comment.

The sudden cuts caused concern across the industry.

The Boston Herald said insiders were calling in “Black Monday.”

In the San Francisco, area, “There was a lot of shock, a lot of sadness,” said Lynn Friedman, president of the Northern California chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences told the San Jose Mercury-News. “There was so much buzz about it, that I’m amazed the various newscasts got on the air that night.”