More Layoffs Hit Oxygen, MSNBC

MSNBC and Oxygen, both pointing to shifts in their programming strategies, initiated new rounds of layoffs last week, officials from both networks said.

Spokesman Mark O'Connor confirmed that MSNBC cut more staffers from its documentary unit, but wouldn't comment on published reports that said roughly two dozen people were let go.

O'Connor said he didn't have a specific number yet, since some documentary-unit employees will be shifted to other departments at MSNBC, including the live-news unit.

In Oxygen's case, the women's network has trimmed 20 employees from its Oxygen Sports unit, spokesman Mike Wade said.

"We have had cutbacks, based on our evolving strategy in sports," Wade said. "We are going to be doing fewer events, but more high-profile sports events."

Oxygen will air at least 14 sports events this year versus 31 in the past. It will keep the Women's Tennis Association, the Ladies Professional Golf Association and pre-season games from the Women's National Invitational Tournament.

Like Oxygen, MSNBC cited a shift in programming strategy. "We're focusing more on live news than taped documentaries," O'Connor said. "As a result of 9/11, we feel it's more important to have live news."

The changes mark a move away from MSNBC's dependence on nonfiction shows, such as Headliners and Legends With Matt Lauer,
to fill primetime.
Around Christmas time, MSNBC did an initial round of layoffs at its documentary unit.

"They're not getting any traction in the marketplace," said one source familiar with the network. "The channel's identity has always been in flux. The cost of that, at best, is a shifting personnel situation."

MSNBC president Erik Sorenson declined to comment last week. But MSNBC, owned by NBC and Microsoft Corp., has been an also-run in the battle of the all-news networks, lagging while Fox News Channel soars and Cable News Network makes major changes.

MSNBC is reportedly looking to get more aggressive, taking a page out of CNN's book by hiring name talent in the next few weeks.

Moving to more live news, rather than taped shows, fits the corporate culture at MSNBC, reflecting the mindset of half-owner NBC and its news division.

"They're most comfortable with hard news," the source said. "They don't know anything else. They don't know talk. They don't know programming."