Turner Offers Staff Buyouts but Says Cuts Won't Stop There

Struggling With Ratings Downdraft

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'The Last Ship.'
'The Last Ship.' Credit: TNT

Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting division offered voluntary buyouts to employees in a memo on Tuesday morning, following through on growing hints from executives grappling with a ratings slide.

Voluntary buyouts will be offered to employees who are at least 55 and have been with the company at least 10 years as of Dec. 31, 2014, excluding on-air talent and employees covered by a written employment contract. That group comprises about 600 employees, who will receive emails detailing the offer.

Layoffs are expected to follow the voluntary buyouts at Turner, whose networks include TNT, TBS and CNN.

"To support the company's stated focus on programming, monetization and innovation, we are identifying cost savings and shifting capital allocations to high-growth areas where investment will drive growth and profitability," the memo, sent from human resources, said.

"Given the current focus on reducing costs and prioritizing investments to maximize company performance, Turner will also undertake additional reductions in staffing," according to the memo.

Turner has not been spared from the ratings erosion in many areas of TV, lately including cable, and Turner Broadcasting CEO John Martin suggested this summer that staff reductions were coming as part of his "Turner 2020" turnaround plan, designed to get the company in shape for 2020. "In particular, some of our largest, most profitable and highest-profile networks have experienced ratings headwinds," he wrote than. "This is not news to the people who work at these businesses, or for that matter to anyone who follows the business of television."

Turner's entertainment networks have been also been grappling with a management shakeup after the departure of entertainment group chief Steve Koonin during the upfronts, when networks try to put their best faces forward for ad buyers as they negotiate over time in upcoming shows. (Mr. Koonin left to run the Atlanta Hawks.)

CNN and sibling news network HLN are expected to be hit hardest by the staff reductions. Despite Jeff Zucker's turnaround mission, both networks have continued to struggle to compete against Fox News and MSNBC. CNN has shifted its focus, revamping prime-time to include more infotainment shows and documentaries, while HLN has adopted a "social-first" strategy in an effort to attract younger viewers. But these efforts have yet to boost ratings meaningfully.

The staff reduction plan comes after Time Warner, refused a takeover offer from Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.

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