Services & Software

MTV Internet site to trim staff

Sonicnet, a music news and online radio site, will lay off a "small number" of employees in an effort to streamline its offerings, an MTV spokeswoman confirms.

Sonicnet, the music news and online radio Web site owned by Viacom's MTVi Group, will lay off a "small number" of employees Tuesday in an effort to streamline its offerings, an MTV spokeswoman confirmed.

Tuesday's layoffs come six months after MTVi cut 25 percent of its staff, spanning its, and Sonicnet sites. With those layoffs, MTVi shelved plans to go public and has largely been folded under the management of MTV Networks.

Sonicnet will trim parts of its editorial staff that cover two musical genres: classical and jazz. Other areas of the site, such as its popular music sections and its Radio.Sonicnet service, will remain untouched.

MTV spokeswoman Jeanine Smartt said traffic to the classical and jazz areas had not grown as quickly as the company had hoped.

"In this current revenue climate, we are unable to put considerable resources behind these areas and have reluctantly reduced their support and their staff," she said. "At the same time, we need to devote time and resources to the Sonicnet elements that are growing and thriving."

Smartt would not provide a specific number of employees being affected, but she hinted that the number would be "very small."

The latest cutbacks underscore numerous changes at MTVi. Once spearheading Viacom's attempt to tap online revenue, the division has experienced staff reductions and management shifts since last year.

As the Internet bubble burst and the acquisition of TV network CBS came to fruition, Viacom executives became skeptical of MTVi's importance, sources have said. At a time when profitability has become a necessity, executives have worked to limit the money lost at MTVi.

Tuesday's layoffs come a week after MTV said it would link its Internet efforts closely with its two cable channels: MTV and MTV2. The project, dubbed MTV360, will offer features that tie TV programming to the Internet, such as a music-download service, an instant messenger and an Internet radio channel.

One longtime Sonicnet employee said the layoffs had been expected for some time. Sonicnet, which was once known for the adventurous style of its music journalism, has changed since MTV took over in July 1999.

Since acquiring Sonicnet, MTV has steadily increased its influence over the site. For example, Sonicnet had expanded its coverage into new genres--including blues and folk, dance and electronica, jazz, and world music--but then stories in such genres became increasingly rare because "MTV's audience wasn't interested," said Matthew Surrence, an editor at Sonicnet who was laid off Tuesday.

"Sonicnet isn't Sonicnet anymore," he lamented. "MTV's style has encroached, and (the site) has slowly become more generic. It's practically indistinguishable from MTV's site."