WarnerMedia begins ‘painful’ but ‘critical’ wave of layoffs

HBO owner WarnerMedia has kicked off a significant round of layoffs as the company battles steep financial losses related to the pandemic.

WarnerMedia chief executive Jason Kilar emailed staffers Tuesday morning, calling the layoffs “painful” but “critical” to the division’s health. Although he did not say how many jobs would be eliminated, he said the cuts are expected to hit the company’s North American business unit.

“Nothing about this is easy,” Kilar said, explaining that the company is “removing layers” and job redundancies in order to “better serve customers.”

A rep for AT&T-owned WarnerMedia declined to comment on the scope, but sources pegged the number of layoffs at at more than 1,000 and possibly much more.

The cuts, which were forecast last month, come after newly installed Kilar announced in August a broad reorganization that would consolidate its content divisions under Ann Sarnoff, head of the company’s Hollywood studio, Warner Bros.

The need to streamline the division has been accelerated by the pandemic, which has closed the majority of the nation’s movie theaters and halted much of Hollywood’s film and TV production. Last month, WarnerMedia parent AT&T estimated that the coronavirus drove down revenue by $1.6 billion and depressed earnings by $1.1 billion in the third quarter.

While WarnerMedia has been trimming the fat, it is also trying to grow flagship streaming service HBO Max, which launched on May 27. The company said it has invested $1.3 billion in the service, which is meant to take on streaming giants like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

AT&T is also looking at other assets, such as DirecTV, to shore up cash. The wireless carrier, which spent $67 billion on DirecTV five years ago, is considering final bids for a minority stake sale in the satellite TV company, at a valuation of $15 billion. The deal could help AT&T pay down debt from its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner (now known as WarnerMedia), which closed in 2018.

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