Oxygen Cuts Pave Way for Zalaznick to Staff Up

NBC Universal cut some 60 Oxygen employees -- about 25% of the network's staff -- Monday, weeks after acquiring the network in November.

Employees in various departments and at levels up to vice president were cut. Initiated by digital distribution president Jean-Briac Perrette, who is overseeing Oxygen's integration into the media conglomerate, NBCU executives informed the Oxygen staffers of the layoffs in meetings on Monday in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Perrette -- who led the cable part of NBC’s 2004 merger with Universal. as well as Bravo's integration when NBC acquired it in 2002 -- has for the past few weeks been following what NBCU TV Group president Jeff Gaspin called a "very formalized integration process" in figuring out how to make the cuts. In a statement released Monday, Perrette said the cuts were made "after a great deal of thought and careful consideration about what is best for the business."

Some of the Oxygen staffers were offered positions within NBCU, while others are being given pay through the end of the year and "enhanced severance packages and outplacement services," Perrette said.

While some cuts reflect redundancies between the network's team and NBCU's existing infrastructure, others pave the way for incoming Oxygen president Lauren Zalaznick to mold a senior staff with her own hires. NBCU completed its purchase of the women's cable network for $875 million net of financial assets Nov. 20 and added oversight of the network to the Bravo president's duties then.

At the time, she told B&C she would look for a new programming chief -- Oxygen head of programming Debby Beece resigned right before the acquisition was completed. She also said she would try to build Oxygen's team separate from Bravo's.

Zalaznick will succeed Gerry Laybourne, who is leaving the company she founded as an independent cable network at the end of the year. Current Oxygen Media president and chief operating officer Lisa Gersh, a founder of the network with Laybourne, will move to NBCU in a senior corporate position.

Gersh sent a memo to Oxygen staffers at 9 a.m. Monday informing them of the layoff meetings, which she said would take all day. She said the company ordered lunch in New York so as to accommodate staffers who did not want to leave the office for fear they would miss their meetings.

"We couldn’t have asked for a more professional group of employees throughout all of this," she said in the memo. "You have been incredible. This kind of process is never easy on a company -- and even harder on a company like Oxygen, where passion rules the day.  To all of you -- thank you."

NBCU plans to market Oxygen to advertisers as part of a “virtual women’s network” that would include Bravo, morning program Today and female-focused online community iVillage, NBCU president and CEO Jeff Zucker said in announcing the acquisition Oct. 9.