Media companies continue to look for ways to cut cots amid a deepening health and economic crisis due the coronavirus pandemic and a Hollywood production shutdown that is entering its second month. ViacomCBS this week implemented one such measure, eliminating contract positions.
“Like many businesses, COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on our industry,” a ViacomCBS rep said in a statement to Deadline. “With so many of our productions on hold for the past month and into the foreseeable future, we made the difficult decision to release a number of freelance and project-based employees, particularly in production while the shutdown is in place.”
A number of ViacomCBS divisions were impacted, including the company’s basic cable networks, Showtime and Paramount Pictures, according to AdWeek, which reported on the cuts. No full-time employees were laid off as part of the reduction, sources said.
But such layoffs are expected. Disney this month became the first major film and TV company to initiate layoffs related to the coronavirus shutdown.
ViacomCBS is a different position as the company already has been going through rounds of layoffs stemming from the Viacom-CBS merger.
The first payroll cut was implemented shortly after the merger was completed in early December. More pink slips had been scheduled, with an estimated combined headcount reduction of about 100 over the February-March period. The second wave of layoffs started at the end of February, affecting the combined organization, both on the CBS and the Viacom side. The process was paused once the pandemic hit but it is expected to resume as ViacomCBS — like every other company — is grappling the effects from the pandemic.
ViacomCBS already had been reeling from the financial implication of the merger. ViacomCBS’ first post-merger earnings report, saw the combined company swing to 4Q loss, which was attributed to merger-related expenses and various operating items. On the Feb. 20 earnings call, a couple of weeks before Hollywood shut down over COVID-19, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said that the company sees cost savings at $750 million, up from $500 million ViacomCBS originally anticipated at the time of the merger.
In late March, ViacomCBS joined fellow media congloms in withdrawing financial guidance, saying the coronavirus could have a material – but as yet impossible to quantify – impact on its operations.