The first round of layoffs at Walt Disney, announced this morning in a company-wide memo, are already beginning to include some major losses.
Multiple media sources affirm that among those getting the pink slip are Mark Levenstein, Hulu’s senior vice president of production, and Jayne Bieber, Freeform’s senior vice president of production management and operations. Additionally, the VP of development who oversees creative acquisitions for 20th Television Studios, Elizabeth Newman, is being let go.
Newman’s acquisitions department will be dissolved, with its functions being absorbed by the studio. Bieber and Levenstein’s respective production teams will be folded under Carol Turner, currently ABC Signature’s EVP of production. She’s now expected to take on an expanded role with network and platform production for scripted television across Disney Entertainment being consolidated under her. She will report to Eric Schrier, president of Disney Television Studios and global original television strategy for Disney Entertainment.
Disney CEO Bob Iger warned on Monday, via a company-wide memo, that layoffs beginning this week would eliminate 7,000 staffers. Iger noted in February that the plan was part of a streamlined restructuring — part of a larger plan to create $5.5 billion in cost savings — that would focus on Disney Entertainment, ESPN and the Parks, Experiences and Productions divisions.
The cuts were “necessary for creating a more effective, coordinated and streamlined approach to our business,” Iger wrote in the memo. He added that senior leaders have been evaluating their operational needs since he announced the cuts. Iger stated that the third and final round of layoffs is expected to come before the start of the summer.
The attempts to find savings come as other large entertainment corporations are attempting to reduce their workforce in a bid to streamline staff in both a post-COVID readjustment and as concerns loom about a potential economic recession.
As previously noted in TheWrap, Disney has been facing financial difficulties, which have been worsened by several decisions made by Iger. These include the acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets for $71 billion, which resulted in a significant debt burden for the company.
Additionally, the costly move to compete with Netflix in the streaming market and the commitment to restoring Disney’s dividend by the end of the year have also reduced the amount of money available for cast member salaries and creative works.
The 7,000 layoffs represent a small proportion of Disney’s workforce, which stood at 223,000 employees in October, the number is still considered to be alarming by some observers.
Meanwhile, Monday’s cuts eliminate siloed production divisions and consolidate that department into one unit covering all of the television side while also eliminating a separate acquisitions unit. Undoing the siloed production divisions has been a priority since Iger returned as Disney CEO in November of 2022 when the Board ousted Bob Chapek, who was Iger’s chosen successor.
Bieber had been with Disney since 2009, starting as a producer at Disney Channel before rising at ABC in the production and operations department. She served as VP of the department for over a decade and added Freeform to her management portfolio in 2018.
Levenstein, meanwhile, had been with Hulu as head of production and postproduction since mid-2019.
Newman moved from Creative Arts Agency to the role of VP of development at Disney in late 2019. She was named head of creative acquisitions in early 2021 when former Disney Studio chief Craig Hunegs formed the department which now reports to Schrier.