Layoffs hit Al Gore's Current Media

Cable network is latest media company to have cuts, as its Los Angeles and San Francisco offices slim down. Company says about 60 people have been let go, but new ones will be hired.

layoffs
Producer/Editor Shaun Cvar and about a dozen other laid off CurrentTV employees gathered at a watering hole next door to Current's offices for drinks after being laid off. James Martin/CNET Networks

There have been layoffs at Current Media, the cable network co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

A statement from Current put the number of layoffs at about 60 positions, with 30 more to be refilled, the company said in a statement. That's less of a hard hit than the 20 percent cuts that a source close to Current hinted to CNET News on Tuesday. The statement read: "Approximately 60 positions have been eliminated in the company's three U.S. offices, and approximately 30 new positions created," the statement read. "Many of those whose positions were eliminated have been placed in the new positions. Current will have approximately 410 employees (after these staffing adjustments)."

The source also said additional layoffs would be coming in January, which a Current representative denied.

Current had announced less than a day ago that it had partnered with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to bring its network to Canada. Current's plans for an initial public offering are on hold, employees have told CNET News. The company filed for an IPO in January.

Approached outside the company's San Francisco headquarters, one laid-off Current employee said that she hadn't seen it coming.

"Not only was this uncalled for, but there was continuous deliberation during the last two or three months," the former employee said. "Every meeting we've had with the VP of our department has been a lot of 'Don't worry, your positions are secure.' And that has been repeated for the last two to three months."

Changes in programming format are on the way too. Current's focus on indie and amateur producers was a bold experiment, one that left some critics scratching their heads when the channel debuted in 2005.

Current layoffs
VC^2 production assistant Parisa Vahdatinia, her layoff packet labeled "Top Secret," and her (former) office plant were at the nearest bars, Pete's Tavern, just hours after being laid off by media company CurrentTV. James Martin/CNET Networks

"As part of the impending transition at Current TV, one source says the company is going to drop its shorter (user-generated content) videos in favor of the more traditional 30-minute programs that have long dominated television programming across all channels," David Weir, an analyst at CNET News sister site BNET, reported on Monday night.

The statement from Current hinted at this change as well. "These changes result from the development of a new, innovative programming strategy built around eight cross-platform channels, including news, comedy, music, and technology, slated to premiere in the first quarter of 2009," the statement detailed. "Current's new programming strategy expands upon its pioneering use of viewer-created content to include additional opportunities for participation, creating a far more viewer-influenced network, and further unifies the company's online and TV platforms by having each Web channel paired with a companion TV show."

Current, which consists of the Current TV network and Current.com, had just gone through a high-profile marketing effort in conjunction with the 2008 presidential election, for which it partnered with trendy social-media brands Digg and Twitter.

Company representatives told CNET News last week that it had been a big success, and Gore himself later gave a speech at the Web 2.0 Summit in which he touched upon how he hopes Current will solve some of the problems plaguing the television news industry.

At least one Current employee, associate producer Andrew Schneider, has Twittered his departure. The company "just laid me off with a ton of my colleagues," Schneider wrote.

Schneider's LinekdIn profile says that he worked in VC2, the "Viewer Created" or user-generated content division of Current. A source told CNET News that the VC2 division was hit particularly hard by the layoffs.

The company statement said the layoffs were a preventative measure: "These changes enable Current Media to reduce its cost structure, thereby assuring that it will be comfortably profitable in 2009, regardless (of) the depth and length of the recession."

Current layoffs
Laid off producer/editor Holly Gibson, in pink, talks with co-workers outside their offices after the San Francisco media company laid off 60 people Tuesday. James Martin/CNET Networks

Last update at 8:02 p.m. PT. CNET News' James Martin contributed to this article.

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About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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