Hollywood Reporter, Billboard Set for Deep Staffing Cuts by Owner Valence Media (Exclusive)

WAXWORD

Up to $10 million in cuts are slated for next week on the heels of the firing of THR editorial director Matthew Belloni

The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard are set for deep staffing cuts next week by parent Valence Media in an effort to reduce personnel and headcount expenses by up to $10 million, TheWrap has learned.

The cuts are expected to rise to “$9-$10 million of personnel and headcount expenses,” according to an insider at the company though it is unclear just how many employees may be affected. The downsizing was initially slated to be even deeper, since losses at the media company are estimated at about $18-$19 million a year, this insider said.

The layoffs, which an insider said will most severely impact The Hollywood Reporter, come after editorial director Matthew Belloni abruptly stepped down on Monday after clashing with Valence’s chief executives over journalistic ethics and editorial oversight.

A spokeswoman for Valence declined to comment for this article.

The internal goal for the downsizing is to make it past break-even to “profitability,” the insider added.

The pending editorial cuts come during the financial turmoil wrought by the global coronavirus pandemic but The Hollywood Reporter has been losing millions of dollars annually for more than a decade as part of an ambitious attempt to transform the brand for the digital age while still offering high-end, glossy print magazine on a weekly basis.

The Hollywood Reporter, the crown jewel of Valence Media, lost $6 million in 2013, a huge sum considering that revenues totaled $15 million, TheWrap reported in 2015. Executives with knowledge of the company’s finances said the overall losses have mounted as high as $30 million annually.

In a major media shake-up in 2015, Guggenheim Partners, along with multiple other investors, spun off The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard Magazine, Adweek, Dick Clark Productions and Mediabistro to Guggenheim president Todd Boehly, who is now chairman and owns a controlling interest in all of those properties. He combined those properties with the production company Media Rights Capital, known as MRC.

According to two individuals familiar with the company, Boehly’s mission at the time was to shrink the company’s annual losses down to $20 million.

In January 2019, Billboard and THR laid off 22 people as Valence Media underwent a restructuring of its business operations. An individual familiar with the situation told TheWrap that the cuts were about retooling the business strategy and not economic decisions.

Chief among the concerns that led to Belloni’s departure, according to insiders who spoke with TheWrap, included requests from Valence’s co-CEOs Asif Satchu and Modi Wiczyk that THR refrain from publishing negative stories that would impact Valence’s business relationships and that the outlet over-promote projects from Valence’s other divisions, including Dick Clark Productions.

Insiders with knowledge of the situation said that in the days leading up to the massive layoffs, Satchu and Wiczyk had begun investigating editorial staffers who might have leaked to the press about company operations amid heightened scrutiny around Belloni’s departure. A spokeswoman denied that this was the case.

In a memo to The Hollywood Reporter staff on Monday, Belloni did not explicitly address the reason for his departure but said that it was the “result of a series of conversations” he had with Wiczyk over the past few months about “the direction at THR.”

“Some may want to read into that, but I’ll just say that well-meaning, diligent, ambitious people can disagree about fundamental priorities and strategies,” Belloni wrote.

A spokesperson for Valence told TheWrap earlier this week that it was “committed” to the “journalistic integrity” of its publications, which include THR and Billboard, and said that the media group had been working with Poynter Institute to “follow modern best practices and maintain optimal editorial independence.”

Editor’s Note: A preliminary version of this story was published in error. TheWrap regrets the mistake.

J. Clara Chan

J. Clara Chan

Media and politics reporter • jclara.chan@thewrap.com • Twitter: @jclarachan

Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman, is the founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of TheWrap. She is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, and was a Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times.