MTVN Set to Trim Staff

NEW YORK Viacom is preparing to cut 250 jobs at its MTV Networks division, the latest action in what MTVN chairman and CEO Judy McGrath characterized as a “fine-tuning” of operations.

This morning, in a memo to MTVN staff, McGrath said that in order to compete in an accelerating digital universe, the company must “refine [its] business and organizational models as well.”

The memo, which was leaked to the press almost immediately after it hit MTVN staffers’ in-boxes at 6:17 a.m., confirmed that cuts will come across the five business units: music and logo; kids and family; entertainment; international; and sales and strategic services.

The cuts are expected to have a considerable impact among the cable networks, including the flagship channel, as well as Spike TV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The dollars Viacom saves as a result of the staff reduction will be funneled into furthering MTVN’s digital expansion, a category that has been a source of particular tumult.

In September, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone forced out longtime Viacom CEO and MTV co-founder Tom Freston after the media conglomerate failed to acquire When Freston hesitated to meet MySpace’s $500 million asking price, News Corp. swooped in, picking up the social networking phenomenon for about $580 million.

Redstone later called the experience of missing out on MySpace “humiliating.”

The layoffs are expected to begin today and will continue throughout the week. They may only be the first in a wave of staff reductions engineered by CEO Philippe Dauman and CFO Thomas Dooley, the two Redstone confidantes who were brought on in the wake of Freston’s ouster.

The first seismic tremors were felt on Jan. 11, when Viacom let go of MTVN president and COO Michael Wolf, who came aboard a year ago to oversee a digital renaissance at the networks group. On that same day, Nicole Browning, president of affiliate sales and marketing, and a 20-year MTVN employee, also announced she would leave the company.

McGrath expressed her solidarity Monday, telling staffers, “The close-knit culture we have at MTV Networks makes this especially tough. Everyone here makes invaluable contributions to the company every single day, and it is painful to see hard-working, dedicated people leave us.”