By Andrew Hampp
Comcast is shuttering NBC Universal Digital Studio, a three-year-old original Web content division, NBCUniversal confirmed on Friday. The closure will affect 11 positions over the course of the next few months, including studio head Cameron Death, who was named senior VP-general manager last August.
"Going forward we plan to focus our digital efforts and investment on content that’s supportive of our on-air programs, providing our audience with additional content that further engages them in our shows," an NBCUniversal spokeswoman said in a statement confirming word from several executives. "We’re proud of the accomplishments of The Digital Studio. This decision is simply about a change in strategy."
The move represents one of the first formal rounds of layoffs at the newly merged Comcast-NBCU, which has made major changes to its sports and entertainment divisions over the past seven months.
The company plans to find other opportunities where possible for the executives affected as the digital studio is phased out, according to an executive familiar with its plans.
Since debuting in early 2008, the Digital Studio has tried to position itself as a branded-entertainment hub, creating original series with brands such as American Family Insurance ("In Gayle We Trust"), Samsung ("Fact Checkers Unit") and Hidden Valley Ranch ("Garden Party"). At least one project remains in limbo, a third season of "In Gayle We Trust," which was scheduled to start pre-production later this summer. Those plans have been stalled for the time being, according to executives familiar with the project.
(Update: NBC has assured American Family of its commitment to a third season of "In Gayle We Trust," American Family told Ad Age.)
Original Web content remains a tough nut to crack for the broadcast networks. ABC became the first to enter the space in 2007 with Stage 9, a studio that was shuttered in 2009 after several projects failed to attract any sponsors. "If you think about the videos that do well online, it takes time to develop that audience," Albert Cheng, ABC’s exec VP-digital media, told Ad Age last year. "It could also very well be the nature of the content we were putting on. People weren’t ready for that type of production quality."
Last summer, CBS premiered "Around the World For Free," an original reality web series sponsored by American Airlines and AT&T, but the network has not introduced any major original projects following the departure of former interactive entertainment chief Anthony Soohoo in March. Fox created a digital studio in late 2009, headed by former Spacedog Media executive Roger Mincheff, that has yet to produce a major project.