AwesomenessTV Lays Off 50% Of Staff Following Viacom Acquisition – Update

UPDATED to reflect layoff information reported to California’s employment department: Just weeks after touting its acquisition of AwesomenessTV, Viacom began handing out pink slips.

AwesomenessTV said it would fire 98 employees at the teen-focused studio’s Santa Monica offices, or about 50% of its workforce, according to filing made with the California Employment Development Department. The media company said would lay off most of the employees on or shortly after October 15, with the remaining 15 people losing their jobs December 31.

“As we begin to integrate Awesomeness and streamline the organization within Viacom, a number of positions were impacted yesterday,” a Viacom spokesperson said in a statement to Deadline. “We are grateful for the many contributions of each individual and continue to work diligently to ensure a smooth transition.”

Jordan Levin, the company’s CEO, departed the company last week.

Initial reports, which the company declined to confirm, underrepresented the number of people affected by the job cuts at around 20. But the layoff was sizable enough to trigger a federal WARN Act notification, which occurs whenever an employer plans to cut more than one-third of its workforce.

One of those affected by the layoffs described a grim scene, where employees were contacted on their personal cell phones and called into a conference room to learn their job had been eliminated. The cuts affected senior-level staffers, including the head of Awesomeness Films, the head of documentary and drama, and the heads of music and casting, as well as accountants, legal affairs and other support staff, according to the WARN Act filing.

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“It felt like The Hunger Games,” said the source, who requested anonymity for fear of losing the severance package.

AwesomenessTV reaches about 158 million subscribers across its network, and boasts 300 million monthly views.

Viacom pursued the acquisition, seeing the Gen-Z media company as filling the millennial-sized gap in its Nickelodeon and MTV audiences. AwesomenessTV was viewed as helping to accelerate Viacom’s digital ambitions under its Viacom Digital Studios.

AwesomenessTV’s options were limited after Verizon decided to abandon its Go90 video service, source say. The wireless giant was once wildly enthusiastic about the digital media company, forking over $159 million for a one-quarter stake and signing a multiyear content deal worth around $150 million.

Fortunes for Awesomeness changed once Verizon’s board name Hans Vestberg as CEO — a technologist who has been responsible for overseeing deployment of next-generation 5G mobile services. That signaled to investors that Verizon would not look to continue down the path of diversifying Verizon’s businesses by investing in digital content.

Once the cash from Go90 was gone, Awesomeness began considering its options, including its ultimate sale to Viacom.